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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 12:28 PM ET, 03/17/2010

The public on procedure

With Democratic lawmakers working toward using reconciliation to pass health care reform legislation, a number of recent polls suggest the public's take on parliamentary procedure is based more on the result than the process.

Partisans' views on the inner-workings of Congress vary based on whether the procedures would work to their advantage. Before a Republican filibuster became a real threat to Democrats' health reform effort, most Democrats said they were OK with the idea (as they were in 2005 when a similar debate erupted about then-president George W. Bush's judicial appointments). And more recent polling shows deeply partisan splits on both the filibuster and reconciliation.

In a November CNN poll, conducted before Sen. Scott Brown's election left Democrats without the votes to break a Republican filibuster, majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans said they supported the use of the filibuster to block "controversial legislation or [confirm] controversial appointments."

But a CBS News-New York Times poll conducted in February (PDF) - after Brown had taken his seat on the Republican side of the aisle - found a vastly different result. In that poll, 61 percent of Republicans said the filibuster should remain a viable option, but just 26 percent of Democrats agreed. Independents split fairly evenly: 46 percent said keep it, 49 percent ditch it.

Similarly, a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll and a Gallup-USA Today poll conducted in February found sharp partisan divides on Democrats' use of reconciliation. In both polls, however, Republicans expressed far broader opposition to the process than Democrats did support. The NBC-WSJ poll shows Democrats breaking 46 percent in favor of reconciliation, 12 percent in opposition (with a large 40 percent saying they didn't know enough about it to say), while Republicans oppose the move 65 percent to 6 percent (27 percent with no opinion). The earlier Gallup-USA Today poll found 86 percent of Republicans opposed to the move, but 68 percent of Democrats behind it.

It is worth noting that asking about the arcane rules of the Senate in a poll is treading onto shaky ground for many respondents. The NBC-WSJ poll found that four in 10 said they had heard "not much" or "nothing at all" about the filibuster lately. And a Pew Research Center News Interest Index poll conducted in January found that just a quarter of Americans know that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate, meaning more people could name Michael Steele as chairman of the RNC (32 percent) than knew the details of Senate rules.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  12:28 PM ET, 03/17/2010

Categories:  Congress, Congress

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