The wrenching battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court left the public with sharply negative impressions of the new Supreme Court justice and raised questions about his truthfulness, his temperament to serve and whether his partisan views would influence his work on the bench, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in the final days of the fight over his confirmation.
CNN's October Poll
Overall, 51% in the poll oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, up from 39% who opposed it in early September, after his initial confirmation hearing but before accusations of sexual misconduct emerged. Support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation has merely inched up, by contrast, from 38% backing him in early September to 41% now.
Much of that shift has happened among partisans, with both sides pulling further apart on everything Kavanaugh-related. Among Democrats, 63% opposed his nomination in early September, and that has risen to 91% in the new poll. Among Republicans, 74% backed him in September and 89% do so now.
The public’s take on Kavanaugh is much more negative than it was in early August, not long after President Donald Trump nominated him to fill the seat being vacated by Anthony Kennedy. Back then, 33% viewed him positively and 29% had a negative take. Now, nearly half have a negative view (47%) while 35% have a positive take.
Among Democrats, negative impressions of Kavanaugh have jumped 30 points, from 56% in August to 86% now. Positive views of Kavanaugh among Republicans have grown at the same time, increasing 18 points from 62% in August to 80% now. Among women, 53% now have a negative view, up from 33% in August. Men split evenly, 41% positive to 41% negative, but that’s still an increase in negative impressions compared with a 40% positive to 25% negative divide in August.
Shifts in impressions of Kavanaugh are coming most sharply at the extremes. The share who have a “very positive” view of Kavanaugh climbed from 17% to 24%, and “very negative” from 15% to 33%.
The survey was in the field when the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination to the court, but results from interviews conducted before the vote were not significantly different from those completed afterward
Beyond overall impressions, the poll finds a majority of Americans express doubts about Kavanaugh’s truthfulness and freedom from political influence when considering cases.
All told, 52% of Americans say they believe the women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct over the judge’s denials of those accusations (38% said they believed him more than the women). And half (50%) said they thought he lied about his alcohol use as a young adult, more than thought he was telling the truth about it (37%). Half say Kavanaugh’s personal conduct has disqualified him to serve on the court, and 53% say his professional qualifications do not outweigh any questions about his personal conduct.
A larger majority, 56%, think Kavanaugh would be influenced by his personal political beliefs when considering cases before the Supreme Court. But the public was more evenly divided over whether Kavanaugh has the temperament to serve effectively on the court, 48% said he did not and 45% that he did.
Still, more say that Kavanaugh did face a “politically motivated smear campaign” (48%) than say he didn’t face such an effort (41%).
Majorities disapprove of each party’s handling of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings: 55% disapprove of the GOP in the Senate, 56% of the Democrats in the Senate. In early September, before the second hearing, set to address the allegations of sexual assault made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, 45% disapproved of each party’s handling of the confirmation hearings.
Partisans on both sides are more apt to disapprove of how the other party’s senators handled the confirmation hearing than they were a month ago, and both sides have become more positive toward their own senators at the same time. Among Democrats, 59% approved of the Democrats in the Senate in September, 67% do so now. Among Republicans, approval for their own partisans has risen from 68% last time to 77% now.
And Trump’s approval rating has risen in this poll: 41% approve now, compared with 36% in early September. Those who approve of the President largely say they are driven more by his views on the issues (72%) than by his personality and leadership qualities (21%), while those who disapprove are more apt to do so because of his personality (52%) than his issue positions (38%).
One other Republican politician appears to have gotten a boost out of the hearings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s favorability rating stands at 30% favorable to 45% unfavorable in the new poll. While that’s not exactly positive, it is McConnell’s most positive favorability rating since December of 2010. Among Republicans, 62% currently have a favorable view of McConnell, up from 31% viewing him positively when CNN last asked his favorability rating, in September 2017.
All told, 56% of Americans, including 64% of women, say it’s a major problem that two of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices faced charges of sexual harassment or assault during their confirmation hearings, another 16% call that a minor problem and 23% not a problem. About half overall, 51%, see it as a problem because they believe the allegations against Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas are true, 16% say it’s a problem because they think those allegations are false and 6% aren’t sure.
The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS October 4 through 7 among a random national sample of 1,009 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.