Polling Data and Predictions for Justice Stevens’s Replacement

April 15th, 2010

Who will replace Justice John Paul Stevens? While pundits, savants, and oracles across the SCOTUSphere pontificate and read Article III tea leaves, conducted extensive and detailed polling to predict the next Justice. We have invited our nearly 5,000 members–who represent some of the closest and most ardent Court watchers–to weigh in on the vacancy, rank the candidates on the short list, and give their views on the potential nominees. We are still collecting data. Sign up for free at and voice your opinion. This is the first in a series of posts breaking down this data, as we attempt to add some certainty to the vast amounts of uncertainty emanating from the penumbras of the upcoming vacancy.

We narrowed our short list to 8 possible candidates: Hillary Clinton, Merick Garland, Elena Kagan, Janet Napolitano, Devall Patrick, Kathleen Sullivan, Cass Sunstein, and Diane Wood. The following chart lists the nominee, followed by her average favorability, on a -10 to +10 scale, the percentage of predictions listing her at the top, and the percentage of predictions listing her at the bottom. Next to the percentages are the raw number of votes each nominee received for placement at the top or bottom of the list respectively.

Is Kagan definitely the pick? What about Garland and Wood? The analysis of the results, after the jump at

The clear frontrunner at the top of the prediction market is Elena Kagan. Approximately 54% of users place her at the top of the ballot. Kagan is followed by Diane Wood with 21% and Merick Garland with 10%. This indicates that Wood and Garland are strong second or third string choices for the nomination. However, Wood, who has a favorability rating of 3.04, is viewed as slightly more favorable than Kagan, who has a favorability of 2.99. This difference may reflect the lukewarm reaction many have towards Kagan’s largely  unknown views.

Garland, who is a close third behind Wood, is viewed quite unfavorably, at 1.84. Garland even trails behind Cass Sunstein, whose favorability is 1.91, even though only 4% of users put Sunstein at the top of their ballot, while 9% nudged Sunstein to the bottom.

The differences in favorability indicate that marginal differences in how much a user likes the nominee has little influence on where they predict the nominee’s rank in the list. However, Napolitano, with a favorability of 0.51, is least predicted to be the top pick, with only two votes.

In contrast, Clinton is the least favorable candidate with negative score. She is also at the bottom of the list with 58% of the users placing her at the end of the short list. Napolitano and Sunstein fare better with only 13% and 9%, respectively, of users placing them at the bottom.

If the field was narrowed down to just Sunstein, Napolitano, and Clinton, Sunstein would easily beat the other two, although the difference in top placements would make an uncertain contest between Napolitano and Clinton. Once again, favorability does not affect placement at the bottom of the list either. Sunstein is more favorable than either Patrick or Sullivan, but is still placed in the bottom more often.

Overall, the results of the predictions seem to indicate that Kagan is the clear frontrunner, which jives with the conventional wisdom. The runner ups seem to be Garland and Wood, with Wood being a distant but marginally more favorable second. However, nominating Napolitano or Clinton is extremely unlikely.

In our next post, we will break down predictions by ideology. In our survey, we requested the user’s political self-identification. In our sample, 63% of users identify as “liberal,” followed by “moderates” at 19%, “libertarians” at 9%, and finally, “conservatives” at 8%.

This post was co-authored by Josh Blackman and Corey Carpenter.