It’s hard to have a conversation about politics in recent weeks without it quickly turning to President Trump’s nomination of federal Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. I don’t think I have ever met Kavanaugh and I'm pretty sure I have never met any of the women accusing him of assault. I wasn’t at the party at which Christine Blasey Ford alleges that Kavanaugh assaulted her, but it apparently was in our neighborhood, though six years before we moved there. I have no idea what happened. I don’t think I know anyone who does either, although that hasn’t stopped many people from being absolutely certain.
You probably won’t find many Republicans or conservatives who do not believe Kavanaugh, just as you probably won’t find many Democrats or liberals who do not believe the women who are accusing him. Most everyone has gone to their respective partisan and ideological corners, even though many vehemently deny that, asserting that they are quite certain they know what happened. It says something about where American politics is, and has been since the fight over who won Florida in the 2000 presidential race, George W. Bush or Al Gore. I doubt if I heard anyone say, “Well, I voted for George Bush but I really think Gore carried Florida,” or vice versa.
People ask, “What impact do you think the Kavanaugh nomination will have on the midterm elections?” My hunch is "considerably less" than most people seem to believe. It is doubtful that many people who were planning to vote Republican are now, because of this, going to vote Democratic, or vice versa. Keep in mind that roughly 90 percent of partisans, Democrat or Republican, vote pretty much down the line with their party, just as about 80 percent of those independents who lean toward either party end up voting down the line for candidates of that party. The narrow little sliver of “pure” independents, who don’t lean either way, is in mid-single digits, and most of them don’t vote.
The only real change from the Kavanaugh saga could be in voter turnout, but it’s not clear what difference it will make. Democrats, liberals, and certain segments of women were already pretty energized, and I’m not sure they could get much more so—you are only supposed to vote once. Still, one can make a case that this blue Democratic wave is actually a pink wave, as we are seeing surging numbers of women voters, donors, and candidates this year.
One way to capture the energy levels is by measuring how many people are voting in each party’s primaries. In July, the Pew Research Center counted primary votes in the 31 states that had had partisan primaries so far and found that 10.7 million votes had been cast in Republican primaries, up 24 percent since the last midterm elections in 2014, but that 13.6 million people had voted in Democratic primaries, up 84 percent since 2014. In that 2014 midterm, a very good year for Republicans, 1.2 million more people voted in GOP primaries. Through July of this year, 2.9 million more had voted in Democratic primaries.
Since there was, at least up until the past few weeks, a pronounced energy and intensity gap between the two parties, with Democrats and liberals considerably more torqued up than Republicans and conservatives, Kavanaugh might narrow that gap a little bit. There are some indications in polling that such a narrowing has happened. There had been considerable complacency among many Republican voters, particularly those in the Trump base. Now many view Kavanaugh as being treated unfairly, and they may be lured off the sidelines and onto the field.
If someone were to argue that the Republican majority in the House is pretty much gone, I couldn’t dispute that premise. We are still talking about human behavior, and things could change—but probably not, barring some cataclysmic world event. Republicans are still likely to have a majority of the governorships, state legislative chambers, and state legislative seats after this election, but their advantage is likely to be much smaller. We are looking at some very substantial potential losses for Republicans in the states, where they are overexposed from having such strong midterms in 2010 and 2014 during the Obama presidency.
In the Senate, it remains unclear which party, if either, will gain or lose even one seat. This looks like a gigantic Democratic wave, but with 13 of the 16 most competitive Senate races in states that Trump carried, most of these battlegrounds are in relatively high-elevation states, well above sea level, and thus the wave may be less decisive.