By Adrian Pantoja
With the November election fast approaching, Democrat and Republican strategists are looking to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and possible confirmation a campaign issue. Republicans are hoping his confirmation will help to galvanize their base, while Democrats will call attention to his ideological extremism. How will this strategy play out among Latino voters? To answer this question, I examine Latino evaluations of Kavanaugh using the 2018 weekly tracking poll of 500 Hispanic voters by Latino Decisions and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). The results, drawn from week two of the poll, show that Republican’s hurried confirmation of Kavanaugh is likely to increase the divide between the GOP and Latino voters.
Trump’s rhetoric and policies have strained Latino relations with the Republican Party. To date, there has been little effort on the part of Republican leaders to restore Latino confidence in the GOP. Here I examine how the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is likely to shape Latino voting behavior and their relationship with the Republican Party. We first asked Latinos to rate Kavanaugh along a scale ranging from very favorable to very unfavorable.
One of the most striking findings is that nearly 30% of Latinos say they have no opinion, suggesting that they have limited information to make a judgement. An astonishing 12% said they have never heard of Brett Kavanaugh. Among those who made an evaluation, 35% rated him somewhat to very unfavorably and only 24% rated him somewhat to very favorably. In short, the hasty confirmation process has made it difficult for a significant number of Latinos to form an opinion about the nominee. For those who have heard of the Supreme Court nominee, their opinions skew negatively. If Republicans are looking to use Kavanaugh as a way of shoring up support during the midterm elections, it is unlikely that this strategy is designed to draw in Latino voters.
The poll included additional questions on Kavanaugh that help us gauge Latino reactions to the nominee once additional information about him is provided. One of the controversies surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was whether President Trump would release over 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh’s time working for the Bush Administration. Respondents were asked if they felt that the confirmation hearings should be delayed until additional information is released about him, or whether the hearings should proceed.
From the table above, it is clear that a plurality (48%) believe the hearings should be delayed. A mere 28% said they should proceed and nearly one-quarter did not have an opinion on this issue. Here, Latinos’ position on Kavanaugh appears to be more aligned with congressional Democrats. On September 1st, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (NY) tweeted that the withholding of these documents amounted to “a Friday night document massacre” and that it had “all the marking of a cover up.” It is clear that only a small fraction of Latinos favor moving forward with the proceedings.
Another source of contentiousness surrounding Kavanaugh relates to his views on presidential power. In light of Trump’s growing legal problems, one of the more controversial aspects of presidential power concerns the issue of presidential immunity. That is, to what degree are presidents protected or immune from criminal or civil charges related to their actions while in office? In a follow-up question, we provided Latinos with information regarding Kavanaugh’s position on presidential immunity and his previous role as part of the legal team that brought impeachment charges again President Bill Clinton. Armed with this information, we asked Latinos whether it made them feel more or less supportive of Kavanaugh.
Once Latinos acquired more information about Kavanaugh’s views and role, support for him drops considerably. In this case, two-thirds (66%) said they were less supportive (somewhat/much less), while one-third (34%) said they were more supportive (somewhat/much more) of his nomination. In a related question, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with Kavanaugh’s position that U.S. presidents should have immunity. A clear majority of Latinos, 70%, said that a sitting president should not have absolute immunity.
Although the Supreme Court has often been called “the least dangerous branch” in the federal government, the individuals who sit on the Bench wield enormous influence given their lifetime tenure. When vacancies occur, they become the subject of intense political rivalries. Trump’s pick of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy is no exception to this rule and both parties are looking to make his nomination a campaign issue. Once regarded as politically inconsequential, Latinos now have the power to shape a wide-range of electoral outcomes, including the upcoming 2018 congressional midterm election. Without a doubt, Kavanaugh’s nomination will shape Latino political behavior and attitudes. At first glance, Latinos appear to be ambivalent about the Supreme Court nominee, as 41% either have no opinion or have not heard of him. The fact the large numbers of Latinos are in the dark about Kavanaugh speaks to the hurried pace by which the nominee is being vetted and the fact that both parties are falling short when it comes to disseminating information to Latino voters. Nonetheless, once Latino voters are provided with information about Brett Kavanaugh, support for his nomination drops precipitously. This is a significant finding given that Republicans are more likely to campaign around Kavanaugh’s nomination. In doing so, they are likely to increase the wedge that already exists between Latinos and the Republican Party.
Methodology. On behalf of NALEO Educational Fund, Latino Decisions interviewed 500 Latino registered voters nationwide from September 1 – September 10, 2018 and carries of margin of error of 4.4%. Each week a fresh sample of 250 registered voters will be added and combined with the previous 250 interviews to create a rolling average for each week, consistent with most tracking polls methodology. Respondents were randomly selected from Latino Decisions partner web panels and confirmed to be registered to vote. The survey was self-administered and available in English or Spanish at the discretion of the respondent. Data were compared to the best known estimates of the U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) for demographic profile of Latino registered voters and weights were applied to bring the data into direct balance with Census estimates.
Adrian D. Pantoja, Ph.D., is Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions and Professor of Politics at Pitzer College.
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