News & Politics

The 'Kavanaugh Effect' Gives GOP Hope for Midterms

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When it began, Democrats believed that the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would energize their voters to turn out for the midterm elections next month.

Instead, this latest poll from NPR/PBS/Marist appears to show that the Democrats’ smear tactics have energized Republicans.


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

Democrats’ advantage on which party Americans want to control Congress 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.

That “blue wave” is at ebb tide thanks to the extraordinary combination of Democrats overplaying their hand and the hysterical, unbalanced, and unfair tactics of their partisans. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll, said, “The result of hearings, at least in short run, is the Republican base was awakened.”

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.

This is even more significant than the “enthusiasm gap,” which has now closed. These are the voters that Democrats are counting on to bring them a congressional majority. That they are significantly less turned on by the election is not surprising. Historically, these groups have failed to turn out for midterm elections, despite numerous predictions to the contrary.

Simply put, if these core constituencies don’t vote, Democrats are dead in the water.

“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.”

Call it the “Kavanaugh Effect.” We are seeing it in red states where Democratic incumbent senators are trying to hang on to their seats. In North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp has fallen 10 points behind her GOP challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, in the last two weeks, indicating a surge as a result of the attacks on Kavanaugh. The Missouri Senate race between Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Josh Hawley is dead even and in Nevada, the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent, Senator Dean Heller, is holding his own against his Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen.

While still a month away, the midterms are not shaping up the way that Democrats expected. They believed that the anti-Trump hysteria they had ginned up among their base voters would carry them to a majority in the House and Senate.

Instead, Republicans now have a fighting chance to maintain control of both chambers, despite historical and electoral advantages for the Democrats.