Poll: Few Follow Filibuster Debate

democrat republican house congress tie deadlock status quo CBS/AP

The Senate is on the verge of a final debate on the so-called "nuclear option" to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees, but most Americans are not paying close attention to the issue.

However, the public does have general views as to how federal judges should be selected: most Americans think a larger majority of 60 Senate votes should be required. By a two to one margin, those with an opinion think it would cause harm to the political system to change the rules for judicial filibusters.

Most Americans think it should take a larger majority of votes in the Senate to move ahead to confirm a federal judge or a Supreme Court judge. For federal judges, 63 percent think it should take 60 Senate votes to move ahead with confirmation, while 35 percent think 51 votes is acceptable. Similarly for Supreme Court judges, 64 percent think it ought to take 60 votes to move ahead, and 31 percent think 51 votes are sufficient.

SENATE VOTES NEEDED TO MOVE AHEAD WITH CONFIRMING…

Federal judge

51 votes
35%
60 votes
63%

Supreme Court judge
51 votes
31%
60 votes
64%

By a wide margin, the public also wants the two parties to agree on judges, rather than allowing the majority party to decide. 79 percent think both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have to agree that a person should become a judge, even if that takes a long time. 14 percent think that because Republicans have the most Senators, Republicans should get to decide whether a person should be a judge, even if Democrats disagree.

HOW SHOULD SENATE DECIDE ON JUDGES?

Republicans and Democrats have to agree
79%
Republicans have majority and should decide
14%

When party names are omitted from the question, the results are similar. 74 percent think both parties need to agree on judges, while 17 percent think the party with the majority in the Senate gets to decide.

More Democrats would like to see 60 votes needed for judges, while a larger number of Republicans would be satisfied with 51 votes. Majorities of Democrats and Republicans would like to see Senators from both parties agree on judicial nominees.

Despite the attention the debate over the filibuster is receiving in the Senate, most Americans aren't paying close attention to this issue. One in ten say they are following it very closely, and another 24 percent are following it somewhat closely. Two thirds are following the story not very or not at all closely.

CLOSELY FOLLOWING THE FILIBUSTER DEBATE

Very closely
10%
Somewhat closely
24%
Not very closely
28%
Not at all closely
38%

The views of those who are following the issue at all are similar to those of all Americans.

22 percent of Americans have no opinion on what the longer term effect of eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees might be. But by two to one, those who have an opinion think that step would have a negative effect rather than a positive one. 37 percent think that would cause more harm than good to the U.S. political system, while 18 percent think it would cause more good than harm. 23 percent think it would have no effect on the U.S. political system, and 22 percent are not sure.

LONG TERM EFFECT OF ELIMINATING JUDICIAL FILIBUSTER?

More good than harm
18%
More harm than good
37%
No effect
23%
Don't know
22%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 655 adults, interviewed by telephone May 20-22, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups is higher. Error for questions asked of half-samples is plus or minus six points.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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