So far, there are no signs it has. Some Democrats feared that this vacancy could be a game changer, motivating Republican voters who have soured on President Trump to come out to vote for him and Republican candidates. But we haven’t seen evidence of that in polling.
Polls in Senate races conducted at least in part after Ginsburg’s death don’t show big gains for Senate Republicans. Some have shown gains for Democrats, although it’s not clear that’s tied to the Supreme Court battle.
Four big races considered to be toss-ups — Arizona, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa — still look like toss-ups. (Democrats would need to unseat Republicans in all or most of those states to win the majority.) South Carolina is also looking more competitive by the day.
Here are some high-quality polls of big Senate races where pollsters were in the field for at least part of the time after Ginsburg’s death or in the days after. While they show good news and bad news for both parties, they’re not markedly different from polls we saw before Ginsburg died.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll on how this affects the presidential race shows that a clear majority of Americans want the winner of the presidential election to nominate Ginsburg’s successor.
It’s entirely possible this vacancy just keeps people in their partisan camps. That poll finds evidence that Republicans’ efforts to fill it now is motivating voters for Democrat Joe Biden more than Trump voters.
The Supreme Court could be rising in prominence as an issue. A CBS/YouGov poll in North Carolina that found Democrat Cal Cunningham ahead of Sen. Thom Tillis (R) also found 69 percent of likely voters saying the court is a major factor in their vote for president, below the economy and health care. But 43 percent also said if Tillis voted for Trump’s nominee, it wouldn’t affect their vote.
Republicans are used to being the party that gets more animated by court fights, so they were somewhat alarmed by the news that Democrats donated a huge an amount of money as a direct result of this vacancy and Republicans’ efforts to fill it in an election year.
That has soothed some Democrats’ nerves that this court battle would tip entirely in Republicans’ favor. But that Democratic grass-roots energy also hasn’t manifested yet in polling to tilt the toss-up Senate races their way. And it might not. A number of must-win races for Democrats are in swing and red-leaning states, like North Carolina and Iowa, where there isn’t as dedicated a Democratic base.
One thing that could shake this up is how successful Democrats are at tying this Supreme Court fight to health care. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case just after the election that could overturn the Affordable Care Act — with the Trump administration’s blessing. Trump’s nominee, federal judge Amy Coney Barrett, has expressed skepticism of previous court decisions to uphold Obamacare.
That gives Democrats an opportunity to deploy what has been a winning political message for them. Championing themselves as the party to protect health coverage helped them win back the House majority in 2018. It was so effective that today, some vulnerable Senate Republicans and the president are trying to emulate Democrats by saying they would protect coverage for those with preexisting conditions, even as they seek to undo the ACA that offers such protections.
Health care can also steer the conversation away from politically tricky territory for Democrats like court packing and other democracy changes. “Under health care, we can make it very personal, and there is nothing extreme about it,” said a Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
Another factor that could go Republicans’ way are Coney Barrett’s nomination hearings, scheduled for mid-October. She’s a mother of seven with a Catholic faith that Democrats have asked questions about before, in her 2017 confirmation hearing to be a federal judge. That opened up Republicans to accuse Democrats of trying to apply an unconstitutional religious litmus test to judges. We also know she’s personally antiabortion but she’s unlikely to say whether she thinks Roe v. Wade should fall.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has made a point of not disparaging Coney Barrett, rather focusing on how she’ would threaten Obamacare.
But we’re still early in this process. The Supreme Court nomination battle is likely to take weeks.
So I’ll repeat what I said in the hours after Ginsburg’s death: It’s possible that despite this massive Supreme Court battle just before an election, we’re right back where we started, unsure which party will have the Senate majority in 2021. After Senate Republicans muscled Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh onto the court just before the 2018 midterms, results were mixed on which party benefited politically from that fight.