Most Americans Not Paying Attention to Debate

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 23, 2005; 6:50 PM

Americans are sharply divided along partisan lines over whether to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate, but many are not paying particularly close attention to the issue, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

According to the poll, 43 percent favor eliminating the filibuster rule on judges while 40 percent want to keep it. Two-thirds of all Republicans support the rule change, while the same proportion of Democrats oppose it.

The survey also found that many Americans are paying little or no attention to the filibuster debate currently roiling the Senate. Slightly more than half--53 percent--said they are following the debate "not too closely" or "not closely at all," while 47 percent said they are paying at least somewhat close attention.

The latest Post-ABC finding that opinion is split on the filibuster issue differs from the results of other recent surveys. Those polls showed that opponents of abolishing the filibuster rule for judges outnumbered supporters by margins ranging from eight to more than 20 percentage points. A Post-ABC survey conducted last month that asked a different question found the public opposed 2-1 to changing Senate rules.

In April, the Post and ABC asked the question without using the word "filibuster":"Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?"

In the most recent survey, the question briefly explained the filibuster rule and noted the major Democratic and Republican arguments: "As you may know, the president nominates federal judges and the Senate votes whether to confirm them. A Senate rule called a filibuster allows a minority of senators to block a final vote on a judicial appointment even if a majority of senators supports the nominee. Republicans want to eliminate the filibuster rule for judges, saying it's unfair that a minority can block a vote by the full Senate. Democrats want to keep the filibuster rule for judges, saying the minority needs a way to block nominees that they strongly oppose. What about you: Do you prefer to eliminate the filibuster rule, or to keep the filibuster rule for judicial nominees?"

In addition to the wording of the question, the difference between the latest Post-ABC poll and other surveys could be due, in part, to the fact that the current Post-ABC News survey contains an unusually large percentage of self-described Republicans. Thirty-eight percent in the latest sample said they were Republicans, about seven points higher than the average in polls conducted this year by the two news organizations. The proportion of Democrats also was significantly below the yearlong average.

The reasons for the large number of Republicans in the latest sample were not clear.

If the number of Democrats, Republicans and independents were adjusted to bring them into line with the 2005 average in Post-ABC polls, the result would be that those who favor keeping the filibuster rule would narrowly outnumber opponents 44 percent to 40 percent.

A total of 1,003 randomly selected adults were interviewed May 18-22. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company