The United States Senate will likely confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court today, completing a process that would restore the Court to full capacity prior to the Presidential Election on 3 November, but that would also tilt the ideological balance of the Court towards the conservative side. In the context of an election where it is possible that the Supreme Court might have to decide the victor, our latest polling finds that only 42% would trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision regarding the outcome of a contested election, whereas 32% would not trust the Supreme Court.

On the surface, the overall results appear similar to a fortnight ago and indeed a month earlier (before the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg). But this lack of change in the overall numbers hides a very real change in perception across the electorate. Looking at 2020 voting intention, 45% of likely Joe Biden voters and 49% of likely Donald Trump voters said they would trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision in the event of a contested election. In our poll one week ago, 31% of likely Biden voters and 61% of likely Trump voters said they would trust the Supreme Court in such an event. Almost half (47%) of likely Joe Biden voters would not trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision in the event of a contested election.

A majority (52%) are neither more nor less likely to vote as a result of the vacancy on the Supreme Court. At the same time over a third (37%) of respondents say that the Supreme Court seat vacancy has made them more likely to vote. Just 5% are less likely to vote as a result of it. These results are very similar to a fortnight ago, and there is no significant difference between the likely voters of both candidates: 43% of those who will vote for Donald Trump in the Presidential Election are more likely to vote as a result of the Supreme Court vacancy, compared to 40% of likely Joe Biden voters.  

A greater proportion of respondents say the vacancy makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden (26%), than Donald Trump (19%). Looking more closely, 5% of those who intend to vote for the incumbent President say the Supreme Court vacancy makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden, while just 4% of those who intend for the Democratic nominee are now more likely to vote for Donald Trump.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority (84%) of the American public have not changed their mind on how they are voting during the 2020 Election cycle due to the Supreme Court vacancy. Nevertheless, 16% say they have changed their mind due to the Supreme Court vacancy. Male respondents (20%) are more likely to have changed their mind on how they are voting (not just for President but further down the ballot), than female respondents (12%).

The American public is polarized on Donald Trump’s decision to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the end of his current term. Currently, 40% support the President’s decision to push forward with a Supreme Court nomination prior to the election, while 39% oppose the move. Around a fifth (18%) neither support nor oppose the President’s decision.

Notably, 10% of likely Joe Biden voters support the President’s decision to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the election, while only a tiny minority (2%) of likely Donald Trump voters oppose it. Among those who don’t know who they will vote for, a clear plurality (45%) neither support nor oppose Donald Trump’s decision to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice, which indicates that his actions in this instance are unlikely to sway undecided voters either way.

A plurality (39%) of the overall sample supports the President’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in particular, while around a third (34%) oppose her nomination. The proportion of respondents who support the nominee has not changed since last week (38%), or a fortnight ago (38%), which indicates that the Senate confirmation hearings have had an extremely limited impact on public opinion.

President Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court is supported by the overwhelming majority (81%) of those who are likely to vote for his re-election. Indeed, only 3% of likely Donald Trump voters oppose Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. While a clear majority of likely Joe Biden voters oppose the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the proportion (64%) is notably lower than the percentage of likely Donald Trump voters who actively support the President’s decision.

A slight plurality (38%) of respondents continue to support the Senate confirming Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court Justice before the election in November, a result which has not changed across multiple polls. The level of opposition (34%) to the Senate confirming Amy Coney Barrett also remains stable. However, the percentage of likely Joe Biden voters who support the Senate confirming Amy Coney Barrett has risen slightly across the last fortnight to 12%. Only 3% of likely Donald Trump voters oppose.

A clear plurality (43%) of Americans say the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court makes them neither more, nor less, likely to vote for other Republican candidates down the ballot in this election. A similar proportion are now more likely (24%) to vote for Republican candidates, than are less likely (28%). Among those who don’t know who they will vote for, just 8% are more likely to vote for Republican candidates following the nomination, compared to 13% who say they are less likely.

The imminent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett next week will solidify the Court’s conservative majority. In this context, some Democrats have expressed support for expanding the size of the Supreme Court (“packing the court”) in order to re-balance the Court towards a more liberal slant. Joe Biden has continued to avoid expressing his opinion on “court packing,” although in a town hall on 15 October he conceded that voters have a right to know his position and will before Election Day.

At this stage, 29% are opposed to the idea of adding more Justices to the Supreme Court, while 31% neither support nor oppose, and 28% support the idea.

While overall public opinion on packing the court has not changed significantly compared to our previous polling, the issue is gradually becoming more polarizing. Currently, 34% of likely Joe Biden voters express support for packing the court, compared to a quarter (25%) of likely Donald Trump voters. By contrast, our polling a fortnight ago found that just 30% of likely Joe Biden voters expressed support for “packing the court,” compared to 28% of likely Donald Trump voters. Moreover, opposition to “court packing” among those likely to vote for Joe Biden has declined by 5 points across the last fortnight, while it has increased by 5 points among Donald Trump voters.

Ultimately, a plurality of Americans say they would trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision in the event of a contested election, yet almost half of Joe Biden’s likely voters say they would not trust the Supreme Court in this instance. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of the American public are not likely to change their vote because of the Supreme Court’s vacancy, or due to the specific nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy. Likewise, an overwhelming majority of President Trump’s likely voters support his nomination, which may help galvanize the President’s base as Election Day approaches.  

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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