For Biden, the impending Supreme Court nomination battle is unlikely to be detrimental and may instead help the President and Democrats gain headway with his base. First, it may catalyze people to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, as the nominations during former President Donald Trump’s administration revealed.
• For Biden, the coming Supreme Court nomination battle is unlikely to hurt him and may even help him garner support from his base; his approval rating among Democrats has fallen to 76%.
• Biden’s approval rating among independent-leaning Democrats was considerably lower, at 56%. At his peak, he had an approval rating of roughly 20 and 30 points higher with each group, respectively.
• A Supreme Court nomination fight can benefit a floundering president, as it was for Donald Trump. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmations may have aided Republicans in flipping Senate seats in the 2018 midterm elections.
Supreme Court Justice Breyer’s retirement plans lend Biden & Senate Democrats a new leaf.
The revelation this week of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement comes at a difficult time for President Joe Biden. According to an average of polls, his approval rating is at a record low, 41%. His deterioration is evident even among traditional Democratic constituencies.
The good news for the President is that the next Supreme Court nomination battle is unlikely to hurt him and may perhaps help him earn support from his base. To begin, it may serve as a motivator for people to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, as the nominations during former President Donald Trump’s administration showed.
A recent Pew Research Center poll illustrates Biden’s base problems. His approval rating among Democrats has fallen to 76%. Biden’s approval rating among independent-leaning Democrats was considerably lower, at 56%. At his height, in April 2021, he had an approval rating of around 20 and 30 points higher with each group, respectively.
Biden reaffirms commitment to nominate a Black woman.
Biden’s popularity among younger voters and minorities has dwindled among the Democratic base. According to Pew research, he has a 35% approval rating among 18-29 year-olds, although this was his strongest age group in the 2020 election. Biden’s approval rating with Black adults had fallen to only 60%, even though he won this group with nearly 90% of the vote in 2020 when he initially committed to nominating a Black woman to the court.
Biden’s decline in the base comes as a result of his inability to deliver on his Build Back Better program and federal voting rights legislation thus far, as well as deteriorating opinions of his economy and management of the coronavirus.
That is why he must remind Democrats of the primary reason they voted for him in the first place.
Nominating a liberal who would make history to the Supreme Court can accomplish this, even if it does not alter the court’s ideological composition. Democrats have shifted their allegiance away from the court, which has a conservative majority of 6-3. According to a recent Marquette University Law School poll, Democratic approval for the court has dwindled to 45%. Two months before the 2020 election, it was 57%.
Given voters’ perceptions of the economy and the epidemic, a successful Supreme Court confirmation may not be enough to help Biden.
The genesis of the bleeding poll ratings
Often, however, a single event can set the wheels in motion in politics. For example, in August, Americans began to disapprove of Biden’s handling of the American troop pullout from Afghanistan. While few voters were particularly concerned about Afghanistan during the withdrawal, it set off a cascading train of negative news for Biden, which included fears about the coronavirus – specifically the emergence of the Delta and Omicron varieties – and the economy.
Biden is undoubtedly hoping that a Supreme Court nomination and confirmation will have the opposite effect. Nominate someone popular to the court, and you’ll see the Covid-19 cases drop (as they are right now), and perhaps Democrats will reconsider their support for Biden.
Donald Trump’s nominees
We saw how a Supreme Court nomination debate might aid a floundering president during the Trump administration.
Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, was one of the most well-received decisions he made during his first 100 days in office. His nomination and confirmation occurred during which Trump’s popularity progressively decreased for most of those first 100 days.
Trump’s popularity increased immediately following Gorsuch’s confirmation. While we cannot establish that Gorsuch’s confirmation benefited Trump temporarily, it certainly didn’t hurt. According to an average of polls, Trump’s net approval rating dropped from -12 points the day before he was confirmed to -7 points a month later. That may not seem like much, but Trump has historically had one of the highest approval ratings, and the slight movement before this was against him.
Trump’s approval rating surged after he fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, demonstrating that a Supreme Court nomination does not always help if the public holds you accountable for other actions.
Trump’s subsequent nomination battle to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh may have aided Republicans in retaining the Senate during the 2018 midterm midterms.
Republicans would have lost the majority if they had not flipped at least one Democratic seat and ultimately successfully flipped four seats in states won by Trump in 2016. (and later won again in 2020).
Republicans credited Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings and Democratic senators voting against him with tilting the Senate’s balance of power in their favor. Indeed, statistical models at the time indicated that Republicans’ chances of retaining the Senate were improving as they gained ground in red states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Additionally, the hearings appeared to increase Republicans’ chances of voting in the midterm midterms. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight analysis, likely voters became more Republican-leaning than all registered voters.
Enthusiasm is a critical cog in the midterm elections.
Enthusiasm is critical because midterm elections have a lower turnout than presidential elections, and Democrats face an enthusiasm crisis.
According to a recent NBC News poll, Republicans are more than ten points more likely than Democrats to express strong interest in the 2022 midterm midterms. This represents a significant decline in Democratic support from just a few months ago and a reversal from where we were at this point in the 2018 midterm election cycle.
Polling data indicate that Black voters and younger Democrats have experienced some of the sharpest declines in interest. These are typically Democratic-leaning groups where Biden’s approval has dipped the most.
This is not a coincidence and should be cause for concern among Democrats. If you look at Quinnipiac University’s polling, for example, these groups continue to favor Democratic candidates for Congress by sizable margins.
However, if these voters stay away due to their dislike for Biden, it will be irrelevant that they still prefer Democratic congressional candidates to Republicans.
And if Democrats lose even one Senate seat this November, Biden’s ability to nominate anyone else to the court during the remainder of his first term will be severely limited. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has already indicated as much.