Poll: Amid Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle, Democratic Enthusiasm Edge Evaporates

Oct 3, 2018
Originally published on October 3, 2018 8:11 pm

Just over a month away from critical elections across the country, the wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

In July, there was a 10-point gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans saying the November elections were "very important." Now, that is down to 2 points, a statistical tie.

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Democrats' advantage on which party's candidate they are more likely to support has also been cut in half since last month. Democrats still retain a 6-point edge on that question, but it was 12 points after a Marist poll conducted in mid-September.

The results come amid the pitched and hotly partisan confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Multiple women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. He categorically denies all the allegations. The FBI is conducting a supplemental investigation into the accusations that is expected to be wrapped up by the end of this week.

With Democrats already fired up for this election, the Kavanaugh confirmation fight has apparently had the effect of rousing a dormant GOP base.

"The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened," noted Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.

While Democrats and Republicans are now equally enthusiastic about the midterms, the story is very different for key Democratic base groups and independents. While 82 percent of Democrats say the midterms are very important, that's true of just 60 percent of people under 30, 61 percent of Latinos and 65 percent of independents.

Democrats need to net 23 seats to take back control of the House, but if those groups stay home in large numbers, it would blunt potential Democratic gains. With 34 days to go until Election Day, it all points to another election dominated by party activists.

"If there aren't 34 dramatic moments [between now and then], it will be 'my base versus your base,' " Miringoff said. He noted that the Republican move to push Kavanaugh's confirmation forward, despite his unpopularity and that more people believe accuser Christine Blasey Ford than Kavanaugh, appears to be intended to fire up the GOP base in hopes of retaining control of Congress.

"The Republicans' approach has been, and continues to be, all about the base," Miringoff said. "This is their M.O., and that's what we're seeing. That works if turnout is not high."

The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll was conducted Monday. These questions were asked of 996 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


The fight over Kavanaugh's nomination could have major consequences at the polls this November. A survey out today from NPR, the "PBS NewsHour" and Marist College shows that Republican voters are, right now, as energized as Democratic voters. It's a major change from last month, when enthusiasm among Republican voters was lagging behind Democrats.

NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here with results of the poll. Hi, Domenico.


SHAPIRO: How big is this surge of interest among Republicans?

MONTANARO: Well, the percentage of Republicans saying that the election is, quote, "very important" has shot up from the summer when we polled in July. It went from 68 percent then to now 80 percent, which is almost the same level as Democrats. And that is really striking and should be a huge warning sign to the Democratic Party because all year, we've been talking about how Democratic enthusiasm has been outstripping Republicans and how that could lead to this eventual blue wave.

You know, everything Republicans have tried to increase this enthusiasm so far had fallen flat. Whether it was tax cuts or talking up the broader economy, even the threat of impeachment to the president, nothing really fired up the Republican base until now.

SHAPIRO: Is it clear that this is all about Kavanaugh?

MONTANARO: Well, look; I asked that question of our pollster Lee Miringoff of Marist, and his response was this - quote, "the result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base has awakened." So it does appear, yes, it has been the Kavanaugh hearings because we polled a week earlier, and we've seen this change.

He also stressed that there's - a month from the election, any number of things can and have happened in that amount of time. And whether Kavanaugh eventually gets through or is eventually sunk will really have some influence on how fired up Republican voters are. Anything can happen in those 34 days.

SHAPIRO: We've now heard from Kavanaugh and from his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. What does the poll show about who people say they believe?

MONTANARO: Well, this is really important. And more are saying they believe Christine Blasey Ford than Brett Kavanaugh. That was true narrowly when we polled a couple days before the hearing, and it only has grown afterward. About half of people say they believe Ford, while only about a third say they believe Kavanaugh. And that's been an increased margin from last week.

And at first blush, as Danielle mentioned earlier, men and women are starkly divided, but it's really a partisan divide. And actually, what's really interesting here is that the largest group of people that say that they believe Ford in the poll - that she's telling the truth - Democratic men.

SHAPIRO: You've talked about enthusiasm. When you look ahead to the election 34 days from now, what do the numbers show about who the public would prefer to control Congress - Democrats or Republicans?

MONTANARO: Right. All year it's been true that Democrats have led on this question. They continue to lead on this question, but only by 6 points now. That's been cut in half in the past month. And guess what. All of that movement in the past week has been among men. Just in the past week, those men have gone from being evenly split on whether they'd vote for a Republican or a Democrat in their district to now saying they prefer Republicans by 10 points.

Women, on the other hand, give Democrats a 20-point advantage. That's something that they've been saying all along. So you can see, really, who this Kavanaugh hearing really affected and had the most impact on.

SHAPIRO: Is the takeaway here that the, quote, unquote, "blue wave" seems less likely today than it did a month ago?

MONTANARO: I think, absolutely, that's one takeaway. And I think that there have been warning signs for Democrats that the blue wave wasn't going to be as big as it could be because Republican enthusiasm, even at its lower level, was still higher than out-parties in past wave years.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro with results of this new poll. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.