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Poll: Opinion Of Roberts Undecided

As confirmation hearings begin on the nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, many Americans haven't yet made up their minds about the nominee. According to a CBS News Poll taken from Aug. 29 - Aug. 31, 49 percent of those surveyed could not say whether they thought Roberts should or should not be confirmed. Thirty-five percent said he should be, and 10 percent said he should not.

The change of Roberts' nomination from Associate Justice to Chief Justice hasn't made much difference in those views. They are similar to last week when a CBS News Poll from Aug. 29-31 asked Americans if Roberts should be confirmed as an Associate Justice: then, as now, most could not say.

SHOULD ROBERTS BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE AS…?

Chief Justice, Sept. 6-7
Yes
35%
No
10%
Can't say
49%

Associate Justice, Aug. 29-31
Yes
26%
No
9%
Can't say
60%

Almost two-thirds of Republicans today want Roberts confirmed, with another third unable to say yet. Most Democrats are withholding judgment, with six in ten unable to say what should happen yet. Just one in five Democrats is opposed to the nomination right now.

Recent history suggests that the public is reluctant to weigh in on a particular nominee before confirmation hearings commence. Prior to confirmation hearings for then-nominee Clarence Thomas, 59 percent couldn't say whether or not he should be confirmed. Also, before Robert Bork's confirmation hearings in 1987, 66 percent couldn't say decide whether he should be confirmed or not.

SHOULD ... BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE?

Roberts, Sept. 6-7
Yes
35%
No
10%
Can't say
49%

Thomas, Sept. 1991
Yes
24%
No
11%
Can't say
59%

Bork, Sept. 1987
Yes
14%
No
13%
Can't say
66%

Thinking ahead to what topics hearings ought to be covered, most Americans say a Court nominee's positions on issues – and not just his or her legal background - should be considered in the hearings. In the late August poll, 57 percent said a nominee's opinions on issues should be considered in a nomination process, while 33 percent thought the Senate should consider only a nominee's legal qualifications and background. This marks a change from July, when fewer Americans wanted such considerations, and also higher than during the nomination processes of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.

WHEN EVALUATING A COURT NOMINEE, SENATE SHOULD CONSIDER:

Roberts, Aug. 29-31
Legal qualifications only
33%
Positions on issues also
57%

Roberts, July 2005
Legal qualifications only
46%
Positions on issues also
46%

Thomas, Sept. 1991
Legal qualifications only
39%
Positions on issues also
49%

Bork, Sept. 1987
Legal qualifications only
39%
Positions on issues also
52%

When asked specifically about John Roberts in that late-August poll, nearly eight in 10 said it is important that the Senate know Roberts' positions on issues such as abortion and affirmative action before confirming him, including 46% who say this was "very important."

Sixty-four percent of Democrats said it was "very important" to know his positions on these issues, compared to just 30 percent of Republicans. Women were also more likely than men to say knowing Roberts' views on issues like abortion and affirmative action was "very important."

IMPORTANT FOR SENATE TO KNOW ROBERTS' POSITION ON ISSUES LIKE
ABORTION AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION?

Aug. 29-31
Very
46%
Somewhat
32%
Not very/not at all
21%

In the August 29-31st poll, expectations regarding the tone of the confirmation hearings were somewhat mixed. 44% thought Senators would conduct hearings fairly and in a non-partisan manner, but 49% expected the parties would not be able to work together.

WILL REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS WORK TOGETHER?

Aug. 29-31
Yes, will work together
44%
No, will not work together
49%

July 2005
Yes, will work together
43%
No, will not work together
47%

Still, 71 percent expected Justice Roberts to be confirmed to the Supreme Court -- including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans.

EXPECT JOHN ROBERTS WILL BE CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE?

Aug. 29-31
Yes
71%
No
7%
Don't know
22%

Perhaps part of the reason so many Americans are holding off on judging Roberts' nomination is that they don't know much about him yet. About seven in 10 either hadn't heard enough about Roberts or were undecided in their views of him. Those who did have an opinion held a favorable one: 22 percent viewed Roberts favorably, while just 8 percent viewed him unfavorably.

OPINION OF JOHN ROBERTS

Aug. 29-31

Favorable
22%
Unfavorable
8%
Undecided
24%
Haven't heard enough
45%



The August poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 871 adults, interviewed by telephone August 29-31, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups is higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 725 adults, interviewed by telephone September 6-7, 2005. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. Error for subgroups is higher.

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