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More Americans disapprove of Kavanaugh’s confirmation than support it, new poll shows

The Post's Robert Barnes explains how Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh is expected to impact the Supreme Court now that he has been confirmed. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

More Americans disapprove of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court than approve, and a narrow majority says congressional investigation of the new justice should not end with his elevation to the court, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The Senate’s 50-to-48 vote last week to approve the 53-year-old Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment was the closest on a Supreme Court justice since the 1880s, and the poll shows the public’s reaction was almost as divided.

It also suggests the tumultuous battle over his nomination could harm the court’s reputation as the nonpartisan branch of government.

The survey, conducted during Kavanaugh’s first week on the bench, shows that 43 percent of Americans believe the court’s rulings will be more politically motivated with President Trump’s second nominee on the court, compared with 10 percent who said they will be less political. To 39 percent of the public, Kavanaugh’s presence will make no difference in the degree of partisanship.

Asked how the Kavanaugh debate would affect their midterm vote, slightly more say it makes them more inclined to support Democrats for Congress than Republicans. Women say the episode draws them toward Democrats over Republicans by a 16-point margin, while men are more evenly split.

While many of the results in the poll fall along familiar partisan lines, it also found that political independents are more suspicious than supportive of the new justice. According to the survey, 55 percent of independents say there should be further investigation of Kavanaugh, while 40 percent are opposed.

The stakes were high, and the party-line fight over Kavanaugh was brutal. It was marked by allegations of excessive drinking in high school and college and of a teenage sexual assault and other misconduct. Democrats at his confirmation hearing further accused Kavanaugh of dishonesty over his answers to questions regarding his work in the George W. Bush White House.

Republican senators said the allegations of sexual misconduct were uncorroborated and vicious, the result of desperate attempts from Democrats and liberal groups to keep Kavanaugh — for 12 years a respected conservative judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — off the high court.

At a White House ceremony Monday night, Trump apologized to the new justice for “the terrible pain and suffering” he and his family were “forced to endure.” He said Kavanaugh had been found “innocent” of the charges against him, even though the senators came to no such determination.

The poll suggests disagreement with Trump’s view that Kavanaugh had been exonerated, and it does not support the notion of a national backlash against the attacks on Kavanaugh, as some Republicans have suggested.

Rather, the results show the political consequences may be more mixed.

Slightly more registered voters say the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings make them more likely to support Democrats for Congress than Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections, though a 39 percent plurality says it does not make a difference.

There is a gender gap: By 40 percent to 24 percent, women say the debate makes them more likely to back Democratic than Republican candidates. Men are more evenly split, with 30 percent more likely to back Republicans and 25 percent more likely to back Democrats.

Among independents, women by a margin of 37 percent to 12 percent say the confirmation process has made them more likely to support Democrats than Republicans. Independent men are near-evenly split with 22 percent saying it made them more likely to support Democrats vs. 24 percent for Republicans.

Partisans appear more dug in after the Kavanaugh debate, with 65 percent of Republicans saying it motivates them more to support the GOP and 66 percent of Democrats saying they are more motivated to back their own party. There are no significant gender differences among Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

Looking back at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, half of Americans do not think the Senate did enough to investigate allegations that Kavanaugh committed sexual misconduct in high school and college, while 41 percent say it did do enough. Significantly more women say the committee’s actions were deficient — 56 percent vs. 43 percent.

Rep. Jerrod Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has said he will open an investigation of Kavanaugh if the Democrats win control of the House in November and he becomes committee chairman. But Democrats have seemed less eager to impeach the justice, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week telling the San Francisco Chronicle that voters care less about targeting a sitting Supreme Court justice for removal and more “about how we are going to make their lives better.”

The Post-ABC poll finds 53 percent of Americans support further investigation of Kavanaugh by Congress, while 43 percent are opposed. That margin narrows among registered voters, with 50 percent in support of further investigation and 45 percent opposed.

The split over further investigation closely mirrors Americans’ overall support for the Senate’s decision to confirm him. By 51 percent to 41 percent, more adults disapprove than approve of Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation.

White evangelical Protestant voters are among the groups most likely to support Republican candidates after the debate over confirmation, with 64 percent saying they are more likely to support Republicans. A 41 percent plurality of white Catholics say it does not make a difference, while 36 percent say they are now more likely to support Republicans and 23 percent more likely to support Democrats.

More than 8 in 10 Republicans approve of the confirmation overall, while a similar percentage of Democrats disapprove.

There are significant gender differences, with men narrowly approving of Kavanaugh’s confirmation (48 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove), while women disapprove of Kavanaugh’s confirmation by a 23-point margin (58 percent to 35 percent).

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Monday through Thursday among a random national sample of 1,144 adults, including 991 registered voters. The margin of sampling error for the results overall and the sample of registered voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Error margins are larger among subgroups.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report