STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Christine Blasey Ford has told The Washington Post that a Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her decades ago. Brett Kavanaugh told Fox, well, maybe somebody assaulted her but not him. So who do you believe? Well, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll out this morning finds a plurality of Americans are withholding judgment. But they are following this story extremely closely. And many do say - a majority, in fact, say they plan to watch tomorrow's hearings featuring these two individuals. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So when you ask in this poll, do you want Kavanaugh confirmed; do you want him to be on the Supreme Court - who said what?
MONTANARO: Well, Americans are really split on his nomination. I mean, you're seeing just 38 percent of people say that they support Kavanaugh's nomination right now. Forty-three percent say that they oppose, which - not surprisingly - is about the split in the country when it comes to whether or not you are a Republican or a Democrat. And we're seeing, overwhelmingly, a big split along political lines and gender lines as well. You know, this is, by the way, the worst rating for any Supreme Court nominee in the past dozen years or so - about half a dozen nominees and all of them had higher ratings for whether or not they support the nominee to go through.
INSKEEP: Well, this raises a couple of meaningful questions. And we should point out - if you're appointing a judge or a justice, they're not supposed to be about public opinion polls. They're supposed to rule what the law says. They're supposed to do a particular job and do it in an independent way. But there's a couple ways that the polling matters. First, is there a political effect in this fall's election? If there's a plurality of people who oppose this nomination, is that something they're going to vote on?
MONTANARO: Well, yeah. We are seeing that Kavanaugh's nomination is becoming a voting issue. You have more people saying that they're likely, actually, to vote for someone who opposes his nomination than supports it by a narrow 5-point margin or so. And when you look inside the numbers, where this is really a potentially dangerous area for Republicans is that you have white voters with a college education, who've been slipping away from the Republican Party, saying that they're going to be closely watching these hearings and are skeptical of Kavanaugh's nomination.
INSKEEP: Interesting. Well, then there's this other question. Suppose he gets on the court but with a plurality of people saying that they oppose his nomination. Again, he shouldn't be thinking about public opinion polls when he rules. But the court, speaking broadly, would like to be credible with the vast majority of the American public, would like to be an institution that people believe even if they don't always agree with the ruling. Is it a danger to the court to have a nominee who's so divisive if he were to get confirmed?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, it remains to be seen, obviously. But you know, the fact is the court tries its best to come up with decisions that are not split along 5-4 lines, traditional conservative-liberal split. And most of the cases that they decide are by much wider margins. But we hear mostly about a lot of these most divisive, controversial issues. And I think that a big reason for the strength in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh really has to do, in some respects, with the fact that this would make a 5-4 conservative majority for the first time in three-quarters of a century, which would be a huge change for the court.
INSKEEP: Is there a gender divide when you ask people about Kavanaugh?
MONTANARO: Oh, I mean, there is a huge political and gender divide. For example, among Republican men, 61 percent say that they believe Brett Kavanaugh over Christine Blasey Ford. Among Democratic women, 56 percent of them believe Ford. And most of the rest here are undecided - but really, huge splits along gender and party lines.
INSKEEP: Domenico, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks for getting up early. I appreciate it.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.