When voting on Supreme Court nominees, senators respond to public opinion

John Kastellec sent me this attractive paper:

We [Kastellec et al.] study the relationship between state-level public opinion and the roll call votes of senators on Supreme Court nominees. Applying recent advances in multilevel modeling, we use national polls on nine recent Supreme Court nominees to produce state-of-the-art estimates of public support for the confirmation of each nominee in all 50 states. We show that greater public support strongly increases the probability that a senator will vote to approve a nominee, even after controlling for standard predictors of roll call voting. We also find that the impact of opinion varies with context: it has a greater effect on opposition party senators, on ideologically opposed senators, and for generally weak nominees. These results establish a systematic and powerful link between constituency opinion and voting on Supreme Court nominees.

Another triumph of the Lax/Phillips approach of linking policy to state-level opinion (see also here). Also another example of the synergy that’s supposed to happen with an academic department, with Jeff, Justin, John, and myself each bringing unique contributions. I don’t think any of this would’ve happened if we weren’t all brought together with repeated interactions on the 7th floor.

One could certainly disparage this work by pointing out that it’s no surprise that senators are responsive to public opinion. That’s the idea, right? But, as Kastellec et al. point out, it’s not so clear at all from the literature. So they’re making a real substantive contribution as well as an analytical tour de force.

Also, the graphs are just beautiful. I find it a bit distracting that some of the histograms in Figure 1 use different bin widths, but that’s about all I can say. At a substantive level, it’s interesting how high the average levels of support are. There’s clearly a presumption on the part of the public to support almost any nominee.

1 thought on “When voting on Supreme Court nominees, senators respond to public opinion

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Unfortunately the paper doesn't seem to be available for download yet from SSRN. You can also find it here.


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