WASHINGTON – About half of Minnesotans approve of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the number of people who do not believe he committed sexual assault as a teenager is higher than those who believe he did, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll.
The poll comes two weeks after Kavanaugh was sworn in as associate justice following his appointment by President Donald Trump, cementing a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court. A small majority in the Minnesota Poll — 52 percent — believe Kavanaugh’s vow that he will be an “independent and impartial” justice.
In the poll of 800 likely voters between Oct. 15 and 17, 49 percent support Kavanaugh’s confirmation while 43 percent disapprove. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Kavanaugh’s narrow confirmation by the U.S. Senate followed public testimony by Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor, that he had sexually assaulted her while they were teenagers in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denied the allegation, sparking an intense political standoff in the Senate.
A handful of Minnesota Poll questions about Kavanaugh show a pronounced gap between men and women. Fifty-seven percent of men back his confirmation, compared with 42 percent of women. Men are also less likely to believe Ford’s allegation than women.
“What’s she bringing up high school stuff for?” asked Daniel Moran, a 71-year-old disabled veteran from Askov who was polled. “Everybody in high school did something stupid. Even I did something stupid — I don’t know what it was, but I’m sure I did. I don’t believe [Kavanaugh] attacked anyone.”
The poll shows huge divides between Democrats and Republicans in their view of the Kavanaugh allegations and confirmation. In the poll, 38 percent of participants identify themselves as Democrats, 33 percent as Republicans and 29 percent as independents.
Moran is among the 39 percent of poll respondents who say Kavanaugh’s confirmation makes him more likely to vote for Republicans. Forty-one percent say it’s more likely to make them vote for Democrats.
Those results also show a stark gender split. Among women, 47 percent say they are more likely to vote for Democrats because of Kavanaugh, and 33 percent say Republicans. Among men, nearly the reverse is true: 45 percent say they are more likely to vote for Republicans and 34 percent say Democrats.
“I don’t have a good feeling about it,” Marilyn Herzing, a Milaca resident who was polled, said of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “He was so ready to say how this ruined his life. It didn’t ruin his life … I think he played the ‘poor me’ card too much.”
Asked whether she thinks Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, Herzing paused.
“I would say the way he deflected on some of the questions leads me to feel that it would have been a very likely possibility that he did do what they said he did,” said Herzing, a 75-year-old retiree. “Am I 100 percent sure on that? No. But I think the way he answered the questions didn’t really answer the questions.”
Kavanaugh’s strongest support is in northern Minnesota, where 60 percent approve of his confirmation. He’s backed by smaller majorities in southern Minnesota and in the Twin Cities suburbs, except Hennepin and Ramsey counties — where just 33 percent approve.
More divisions emerge on views of Kavanaugh’s confirmation across different demographics and income levels. Fifty-three percent of poll participants who make over $50,000 a year approve of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, compared to 40 percent of those who make less than $50,000. And older voters are also more likely to favor Kavanaugh: 54 percent of those 65 and over approve of the judge’s confirmation, and 57 percent of those ages 18 to 34 disapprove.
For Democrats and Republicans, political alignments largely dictate how they look at Kavanaugh’s ascension to the court. Only 6 percent of Democrats approve of the confirmation; 93 percent of Republicans support it. Additionally, 69 percent of DFLers believe that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault as a teenager, and only 5 percent of Republicans.
For all the divisions, some who were polled expressed ambivalence about what happened — and their views did not follow clean political lines.
Donald Wade, a 44-year-old woodworker and stay-at-home dad, said he found some of Kavanaugh’s behavior during confirmation hearings “not very judicial.” Wade singled out Kavanaugh’s exchanges with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Wade, who lives in the Stearns County town of St. Augusta, also said he tends to believe Ford. Despite all that, he said believes “that somebody could do something bad in high school and still as an adult make amends and have a good productive life, so I wouldn’t hold that against him.”
Wade said he’s not totally comfortable with Kavanaugh’s confirmation but supports it on balance. He also said he was a Republican before the 2016 election, but that he didn’t vote for Trump and that he feels increasingly alienated from the Republican Party.
Carol Lowe, a 75-year-old Richfield resident who was polled, believed Ford and said she was horrified by Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“I thought Mrs. Ford was incredibly credible,” said Lowe, who teaches at Metropolitan State University. “I have no doubt in my mind that it probably happened the way she remembered it … I don’t think he actually remembers doing it, but I think he probably did do it.”