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Going Public When Opinion Is Contested: Evidence from Presidents' Campaigns for Supreme Court Nominees, 1930-2009


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Brandice Canes-Wrone, Alex Hirsch, Matias Iaryczower, Jeff Cohen, Alex Acs, and Sharece Thrower for helpful comments, and Hal Moore for excellent research assistance.

Charles Cameron is a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University and a visiting professor of law at New York University School of Law.
Jee-Kwang Park is a postdoctoral research associate at Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. His research interests include the presidency, judicial politics, political economy, and methodology.


The standard “political capital” model of going public assumes presidents do not face mobilized opponents. But often presidents must fight against opponents who themselves go public. We propose studying such situations with an “opinion contest” framework and use new data on Supreme Court nominations to contrast the political capital and opinion contest approaches. From 1930 to 2009 presidents went public over Supreme Court nominees primarily when groups mobilized against the nominee. Republican presidents did so particularly when their nominee would move the Supreme Court's median to the right. When going public, presidents typically engaged in “crafted talk.” Finally, going public was associated with more negative votes in the Senate, not fewer, because presidents went public over Supreme Court nominees only when battling an active opposition.