The American public feels that a president’s Supreme Court nominations should be taken up by the U.S. Senate no matter when they occur, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll. Specifically, two-thirds say that Pres. Obama’s recent nomination deserves a hearing and 3-in-4 Americans think Senate Republicans are playing politics by refusing to consider to it.
In general, a majority (53%) of Americans say that the Senate should consider Supreme Court nominations even if they occur at the very end of a president’s term. Another 43% say that these late vacancies should be put on hold so that voters can consider the potential nomination when deciding who to elect as the next president.
Now that Obama has named Merrick Garland to fill the seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death, though, a full 69% of the public feel the Senate should hold hearings on the nomination. Just 25% say that the Senate should not consider the nomination. Majorities of Democrats (85%), independents (66%), and Republicans (56%) alike say that Garland should get a hearing.
“The GOP leadership say they won’t hold hearings on Obama’s nomination in order to give the American people a voice in the process in November. The American people don’t buy that argument,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Just 16% of the public agrees that the Senate Republicans are refusing to consider Garland primarily to give the public a say in the nomination. Fully 77% think the GOP leadership is just playing politics. Those who see this stance as mainly a political ploy include large majorities of Democrats (86%), independents (80%), and Republicans (62%).
Many Americans have not heard enough about Garland yet to offer an opinion on his fitness for the Court. Overall, 28% say his judicial experience makes him very qualified for the position, 18% say he is somewhat qualified, and just 5% say he is not qualified. Another 49% have not heard enough to offer an opinion. When those without an initial opinion are asked to take a guess about his qualifications, those saying he is likely to be very qualified increases 12 percentage points to 40% and those saying he is likely to be somewhat qualified goes up 19 points to 37%. Those who say he is probably not qualified goes up only 4 points to 9%.
When asked about the nominee’s political views, 22% see Garland as a moderate, 11% say he is a liberal, and 3% say he is a conservative. However, 65% say they don’t know enough about his views at the moment. When this latter group is asked to take a guess, the number who say Garland is likely to be a moderate increases 20 percentage points to 42%, the number who says he is likely to be a liberal goes up 21 points to 32%, and the number who say he is probably a conservative goes up 5 points to 8%.
“While the American public has just been introduced to him, the general presumption is that Garland is probably a qualified, moderate candidate for the Supreme Court,” said Murray.
The Monmouth University Poll also found an uptick in Barack Obama’s job performance rating. Currently, 49% of the public approve and 43% disapprove. The public was evenly divided in January at 46% approve and 46% disapprove. Congress has also seen a slight improvement in its job performance rating, although it is still abysmally low. Currently, 22% of the public approves of the job Congress is doing while the vast majority (68%) disapprove.
“This is the first time Congress’s approval rating has crossed the 20 percent threshold in nearly a year, so I guess that’s something,” said Murray. “The wide gap in opinions on Obama and Congress suggests that the president may have an easier time getting the public on his side regarding Garland.”
The poll also found that 49% of the public approves of the job the U.S. Supreme Court is doing, compared to 33% who disapprove. Democrats (65%) are the most likely to approve of the Court while Republicans (36%) are the least likely.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 17 to 20, 2016 with 1,008 adults in the United States. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.1 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.