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The Supreme Court’s conservative justices aren’t on the ballot this November. But for Democratic voters, the upcoming midterms are looking more and more like a referendum on the country’s high court.
In late June, when the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in a contentious and divided ruling, Republicans had a solid 2-percentage-point lead over Democrats in generic-ballot polling, which asks Americans whether they plan to support Republicans or Democrats in the upcoming congressional election. A little over two months later, though, and abortion is mostly or completely illegal in 14 states — and those generic-ballot polls look very different. According to FiveThirtyEight’s average, Democrats now have more than a 1-point lead over Republicans.
That’s a remarkable shift in a year when Republicans should have the wind at their back — normally, the president’s party loses seats in the midterm elections. And although things could change in the months leading up to November, there’s mounting evidence that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is galvanizing Democrats and shaking up the political landscape in the process.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted Aug. 1-14 found that more Americans have an unfavorable view of the Supreme Court than at any other point since Pew began asking the question just over 35 years ago. Only 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a favorable view of the Supreme Court, down 18 points since January and nearly 40 points since August 2020. Republicans’ views of the court, meanwhile, have gotten a bit more positive since the beginning of the year, which has created a gaping 45-point partisan gap in the Supreme Court’s favorability rating.
It’s not just that views of the court are changing — the importance of abortion as an issue priority is also skyrocketing for Democrats in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. According to the same Pew survey, the economy remains voters’ top issue overall, but the share of Democrats who say abortion is a very important issue for the midterm elections rose from 46 percent in March to 71 percent in August. Meanwhile, in a Gallup poll conducted July 5-26, 13 percent of Democrats said that abortion issues were the most important problem facing the country — driving record-high levels of concern among Americans overall. An additional 9 percent of Democrats said that the judicial system and the courts were the most important problem.
This heightened focus on abortion and the court seems to be having a real effect on the midterms, too, with Democrats and independents saying in polls that they have a greater desire to vote for candidates who share their views on abortion. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted July 7-17, for instance, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Democratic voters and 56 percent of independent voters say the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has made them more motivated to consider a candidate’s position on abortion. However, 62 percent of Republicans said the decision hadn’t made a difference to them.
Americans can’t vote Supreme Court justices off the bench, of course, but the Pew survey suggests that Democrats are more and more likely to think the court has too much authority. A solid majority (64 percent) of Democrats say the Supreme Court has too much power, up from only 23 percent in August 2020. Increasingly, Democrats also say that the justices are not making politically neutral decisions. Just over half (51 percent) of Democrats say the justices are doing a poor job of keeping their own politics out of their decision-making, up from 26 percent in January.
Even Republicans are somewhat divided on this question: One-third (33 percent) of Republicans said the court was doing an excellent or good job of keeping politics out of their decision-making, while 25 percent said the court was doing a fair job and 12 percent said it was doing a poor job. (An additional 15 percent of Republicans said they weren’t sure, and 13 percent said the Supreme Court justices should bring their own political views into their decision-making.)
This isn’t the first time that anger surrounding the Supreme Court has reshaped a midterm election. In 2018, the fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court appeared to help Republican candidates in some key Senate races. At the same time, however, there were signs that year that the changing makeup of the Supreme Court — and the possible impact on abortion rights — was raising the salience of the issue for Democrats. That didn’t seem to pay off for Democrats in the 2018 midterms since their base was motivated by other issues, but 2022 may be different.
Other polling bites
- While the Supreme Court understandably grabs a lot of attention for its decisions, few Americans are familiar with the process of confirming federal judges, according to an Aug. 17-18 survey conducted by Data for Progress for Demand Justice. As of Thursday, 82 seats were vacant, and many of them are expected to remain empty at the end of the year. While a majority (71 percent) of all likely voters agreed it’s at least somewhat urgent to fill these positions, only 11 percent said they knew a lot about the confirmation process — a figure which doesn’t vary much by party identification. Just over half (53 percent) of respondents said they supported holding additional Senate hearings to consider more of President Biden’s nominees, though that stance was highly partisan, with 80 percent of Democratic voters in support compared with just 26 percent of Republicans.
- With the new academic year underway, Texas is mandating that public schools display donated signs bearing the national motto, “In God we trust.” An Aug. 31 poll by YouGov found that a slim majority of Americans would strongly (35 percent) or somewhat (17 percent) support a similar policy in their own state’s schools. That number soared among Republicans (81 percent) but fell among Democrats (40 percent) and independents (46 percent). Regionally, support for such a measure was greatest in the South (55 percent).
- Most Americans (54 percent) have a favorable view of labor unions, per a YouGov survey of adult citizens conducted Aug. 24-28, though only 10 percent reported that they are members themselves. (Another 9 percent say someone else in their household is a union member.) Almost half (47 percent) agreed that striking was an effective method in getting what they wanted from employers, although Democrats (66 percent) were much more likely to hold that view than Republicans (39 percent) or independents (38 percent).
- Even though social media influencers seem to be monopolizing apps like TikTok and Instagram, an Aug. 25-Sept. 1 CivicScience study revealed that only 3 percent of Americans trust influencers. That number ticks up slightly among adults under 25 (9 percent) and those between 25 and 34 (8 percent), although a sizable share of both groups (37 percent and 46 percent, respectively) report feeling distrustful of them. That said, influencers are, well, influencing spending habits somewhat among those age groups: 30 percent of adults under 25 and 21 percent of those 25 to 34 said they had purchased a product or service in the past six months after seeing it promoted by an influencer or blogger online. Only 6 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds and 3 percent of adults 55 and up said the same.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,3 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.8 points). At this time last week, 42.7 percent approved and 53.0 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 39.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -16.1 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,4 Democrats currently lead by 1.2 points (44.9 percent to 43.7 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 0.9 points (44.6 percent to 43.6 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 0.1 points (44.3 percent to 44.1 percent).
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