Everybody is signing letters.
An opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times points to 1,000 law school professors who signed a letter opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. More than 700 Harvard Law School alumni have demanded that Brett Kavanaugh no longer teach at their alma mater (he won’t be). 200 alumni from Christine Blasey Ford’s high school, Holton-Arms, declared their support for her. And 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh in high school testified to his good character.
You would surely think that the letters with 1,000 or 650 signatures should carry more weight than the letter with only 65 signatures. But actually, that isn’t right. Indeed, the opposite looks closer to the truth.
The big problem here is that the news articles on these letters provide no perspective on the number of people who are eligible to sign these letters. Politicians both for and against Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been continually referencing these letters to support their position, and they will surely do so during the debate in the full Senate. But the numbers usually don’t provide the support that the senators think that they do.
There are well over 12,000 law school professors and administrators in the United States, and 82 percent of them — over 10,000 — are registered as Democrats. So 1,000 signatories calling for the Senate to defeat Kavanaugh’s confirmation represent about 10 percent of Democrat law professors and fewer than 8 percent of all law professors.
Regarding the push to stop Kavanaugh from teaching, alumni going as far back as the class of 1959 signed the Harvard alumni letter. A conservative estimate is that there are a little over 550 students who graduate each year from the law school. So for just the last 40 years of graduates between 1979 and 2018, there would be over 20,000 alumni. So the over 700 alumni represent less than 3.5 percent of all the graduates.
Given that lawyers tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, even a very generous count implies that fewer than 7 percent of liberal alumni signed the letter. Those are hardly overwhelming percentages.
The alumni from Christine Blasey Ford’s high school who signed that letter supporting her graduated between 1967 and 2018. The most recent data indicate that about 66 students graduate every year, so around 3,000 alumni could have signed the letter. With only 200 signing, that is less than 7 percent of the alumni.
Sixty-five women say that they knew Brett Kavanaugh well enough to vouch for his character while he was in high school. This is a remarkable number since Kavanaugh went to an all-boys Catholic high school. He socialized with girls at local all-girls high schools, but the class sizes at these schools seem to have been small. It is hard to imagine that Kavanaugh could have known more than a couple hundred similarly young women, so it took a remarkable turnout rate to get 65 signatures.
It isn’t clear that any of Ford’s classmates who came out in support of her actually knew Kavanaugh. It isn’t even clear that any knew Ford. We don’t know because the signatories were anonymous, perhaps because they didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that they went to school in years that didn’t overlap with either Kavanaugh or Ford.
What tells you more? That at most 3.5 percent of Harvard Law School graduates demanded that Kavanaugh no longer teach there or that over 96 percent didn’t sign the letter? That 10 percent of Democrat law professors signed a letter that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court or that 90 percent of them didn’t sign it?
Unfortunately, this type of news coverage isn’t a problem unique to the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Without some perspective on the percent of possible signers who actually signed these letters, the number of signers is not particularly informative. Politicians wave around these numbers during the hearings and they will surely do so more as the final Senate vote comes near. But these numbers tell us more about reporters and politicians not understanding data than they do anything else.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller