Supreme Court Fight a Driving Force for Voters, Poll Finds

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination will shape the votes of many Americans in November’s election, according to a new poll, raising the already high stakes for Thursday’s hearing on a sexual misconduct accusation against the nominee.

A Pew Research Center survey released late Wednesday showed Supreme Court appointments now rank essentially equal to health care and the economy as top voting issues ahead of the first midterm congressional election of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Overall, 76 percent of registered voters -- including 81 percent who plan to support Democratic congressional candidates and 72 percent who favor Republican ones -- say appointments to the court will be very important to their vote in the Nov. 6 election.

The survey was conducted after the first accusation against Kavanaugh was made public. A California professor alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both were in high school, and two other women since have accused him of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied their claims.

Democrats are campaigning to wrest control of the House and, possibly, the Senate from Republicans in the election.

The Pew survey also found that voter enthusiasm is at its highest level ahead of any midterm election in more than two decades. A record share of registered voters -- 72 percent -- say which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote.

Democrats hold a 10 percentage-point advantage over Republicans on the so-called generic ballot question among registered voters, with 52 percent saying they support or lean toward the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district, while 42 percent say they prefer the Republican candidate.

The share of voters who say they support or lean toward the Democratic candidate is slightly higher than it was in Pew’s June survey, when it was a five percentage point difference.

There are wide differences in voting preferences by gender, race, education and age. Democratic candidates have a 23-point edge over Republican candidates among women voters, 58 percent to 35 percent, while men are roughly evenly divided.

White voters are about evenly divided in their preferences, while black voters overwhelmingly back Democrats. Hispanic voters favor Democratic candidates by about two-to-one, 63 percent to 29 percent.

Six-in-10 voters say that Trump will factor into their vote for Congress. That’s larger than the share who said former President Barack Obama would factor into their 2014 congressional vote choice, but similar to the proportion who named Obama in 2010 when Democrats suffered major losses in Congress during his first term.

More than a third of voters -- 37 percent -- say they consider their congressional ballot as a vote against Trump, while about a quarter -- 23 percent -- say they consider it a vote for Trump.

While voter enthusiasm is relatively high among voters from both parties, it’s somewhat higher among voters who favor Democratic candidates.

“Overall, 61 percent of all registered voters say they’re more enthusiastic about voting than in past congressional elections, higher than at any point during midterms in the past two decades, including at later points in those elections,” Pew said in its findings.

Two-thirds of Democratic voters -- 67 percent -- say they’re more enthusiastic than usual about voting, compared with 59 percent of Republican voters. The share of Democratic voters who express greater enthusiasm about voting is substantially higher than at comparable points in three prior midterms, Pew said, while enthusiasm among GOP voters is slightly higher than in September 2014 and about the same level as in October 2010.

Pew’s survey was conducted Sept. 18-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points on the full sample.

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