The Washington Post observed this week that Democrats “are winning the Supreme Court fight over Merrick Garland. Big time.” Dems aren’t exactly succeeding in convincing Republicans to end their unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, but the party has apparently fared pretty well in the court of popular opinion.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll started asking an important question soon after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February:
“Recently, a Supreme Court Justice passed away leaving a vacancy on the court. President Obama has nominated a new person to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Would you prefer the U.S. Senate vote this year on the replacement nominated by President Obama or leave the position vacant and wait to vote next year on the replacement nominated by the new president or do you not have an opinion one way or the other?”
When the question went to the public just a few days after Scalia’s death, Americans were closely divided: 43% said they’d like to see the Senate vote this year on the Supreme Court’s vacancy, while 42% said they’d prefer to see the vacancy filled next year by a new president.
A month later, in March, the numbers shifted a bit in the Democrats’ favor. This month, in a poll that was in the field last week, they shifted even more. Now, a 52% majority of Americans want a vote this year, while 30% want to leave the seat vacant until next year.
What was a one-point advantage for the White House’s position in February is a 22-point advantage now. A closer look suggests even Republican voters are starting to shift away from their own party’s position.
At least for now, there’s no evidence to suggest Senate Republicans care at all about public opinion. GOP leaders very likely expected their blockage, which has no precedent in the American tradition, would be unpopular, but they decided to go with it anyway. I doubt poll results like these shock anyone.
But if you’re one of the vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents worried about your re-election prospects, and you were counting on the vaunted GOP Messaging Machine to win over the American mainstream on your party’s Supreme Court gambit, the latest evidence serves as a reminder: Republicans aren’t persuading anyone, not even their own voters.
That may not be enough to convince GOP senators to act responsibly towards a compromise nominee, but it should be enough to make some senators very nervous.