The accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are widely perceived to be a boon to Democrats heading into the midterm elections in November. “The women of this country identify with Dr. Ford and will not forget what is happening here,” Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, told NBC News over the weekend. “They are not angry, they are furious, and I expect the largest women’s turnout in a midterm—ever.”
In fact, however, the Kavanaugh spectacle seems to have evaporated the Democrats’ enthusiasm edge, according to a poll conducted Monday by NPR, PBS NewsHour, and Marist. In July Democrats were likelier, by 10 percentage points, to say the November elections were “very important.” That gap has now narrowed to a statistical tie. “The result of the hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened,” Marist head Lee Miringoff told NPR.
The change is particularly striking when comparing women in the two parties. Of all the cohorts measured by the poll (including Independent men and women), Democratic women are the only group to display less enthusiasm for the midterms this week than they did in July. Meanwhile, Republican women seem invigorated. In July, 81 percent of Democratic women said the November elections were very important, compared to 71 percent of Republican women. Now, Republican women are 4 percentage points likelier to view the midterms that way (83 percent to 79 percent). That’s a 14-point swing in female voters’ interest in the midterms—after the hearings, and in Republicans’ favor.
The titanic anger of progressive women has been a dominant theme in the media since President Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton two years ago. Two major books about female rage have been published this fall, including Good and Mad by writer and reporter Rebecca Traister. “This political moment has provoked a period in which more and more women have been in no mood to dress their fury up as anything other than raw and burning rage,” Traister wrote in the New York Times on Saturday. “Many women are yelling, shouting, using Sharpies to etch sharply worded slogans onto protest signs, making furious phone calls to representatives.”
But women’s rage is not a chorus performed in unison. Atlantic reporter Emma Green talked with about a dozen female conservative leaders across the country for a story this week that puts flesh on the Marist poll’s finding: that the Kavanaugh hearings have electrified conservative women too. “I’ve got women in my church who were not politically active at all who were incensed with this,” the chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party told Green. The Indiana state director for the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, Jodi Smith, told Green that “people in Indiana are angry.” In her view, the hearings are “one of the best things that could happen to us” as she looks forward to a hotly contested Senate election in the state in November.
The Marist poll is just one poll. And conservative women plugged into state and local politics were already very likely to vote (and vote Republican) before the Senate hearings. Their new outrage over Kavanaugh’s supposed mistreatment won’t make their votes count more. But their reactions may indicate that less-engaged Republican women are feeling similarly outraged, or even just ambivalent, about the Kavanaugh accusations.
The Kavanaugh hearings have riveted the country in a way that few news stories have the power to do. Almost 20 percent of American households watched portions of the testimony last week; that figure does not include people who streamed the hearings online or listened on the radio. In my own anecdotal observation, my evangelical-heavy Facebook feed has been taken over by posts about accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s credibility, often written by women, including those who rarely post about politics. “There is total manipulation of this process—it’s disgusting,” one woman wrote on an evangelical friend’s post that proposed it was impossible to know who was lying. “I believe she was assaulted [but] I simply refuse to believe it was him.” Others argue that Ford’s evidence is too thin, that Kavanaugh’s good name has been permanently smeared, that his family is suffering unjustly.
Trump’s own rhetoric is a decent barometer of the kind of populist conservative energy that can otherwise be hard to track. At the end of last week, he soberly called Ford “a very fine woman” and said her testimony was compelling. This week, he radically revised his tone. “What he’s going through … ,” he mused to a crowd at a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, before drifting into a riff that mocked the gaps in Ford’s memory. Then he circled back to Kavanaugh, the episode’s real victim. “A man’s life is in tatters,” he said. “A man’s life is shattered. His wife is shattered. His daughters who are beautiful, incredible young kids.” Behind him, two fans held up bright pink signs reading “Women for Trump.”
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary and criticism you won’t find anywhere else. Join Slate Plus.Join Slate Plus