Supreme Court is voters' most 'very important' issue

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh looks on during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

(CNN)Seventy-six percent of registered voters say that Supreme Court appointments are "very important" to their vote in 2018, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday. The result marks the first time since August 2004 that the economy has not been the issue most often deemed "very important" to voters.

The poll was conducted September 18-24, a time when news reports were dominated by allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which may have boosted the Court's standing in the eyes of voters. Three women have made allegations against Kavanaugh; he and the first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill Thursday.
The economy has routinely been the top cited "very important" issue for voters, almost always followed by healthcare and terrorism. Occasionally, the federal budget deficit, taxes, and social security would make their way into the top three, but not as often.
Another three-quarters of registered voters say that health care is "very important" in the latest Pew poll, followed by 74% for the economy, 68% for gun policy, 67% for Medicare, 66% for social security, 66% for taxes, 65% for immigration, 65% for the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, 63% for the environment, 62% for terrorism, 60% for the federal budget deficit, 55% for trade policy, 53% for abortion, 53% for drug addition, and 47% for the treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
    An important note here is that Pew does not usually ask about the Supreme Court in these surveys. The only other time Pew has added Supreme Court appointments into the mix of issues was in June 2016, when 63% said it was very important to their vote in November, compared to the 76% now. In June 2016, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland had been waiting three months for the Senate to review his nomination. No hearings were held before Obama left office in January 2017.
    More Democrats (81%) view Supreme Court appointments as an important issue for their vote than Republicans (72%). The most-referenced important issue for Republicans was the economy, which drew 85% of their registered voters. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats said that health care was the issue most on their minds, while 60% of Republicans agreed.
    President Donald Trump has been claiming huge success in the economy, with unemployment at its lowest since June 2000. Polling suggests the president isn't earning universal accolades for his handling of the issue, but Republicans seem to appreciate the significance he's been placing on the issue as they view it as so important to their vote in November -- there is a 19 percentage point gap between Republicans and Democrats on the economy.
      In the past, the economy has been the most cited as "very important" to voters decision. Between 74% and 91% have said that it's very important to their vote, overall, depending on the year. The economy was very important for 91% of registered voters in October 2008, right in the middle of the Great Recession.
      The largest gaps between the parties occur on the environment (82% of Democrats said it was a very important issue and 38% of Republicans), the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities (85% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans), and the treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgender people (66% of Democrats, and 24% of Republicans).