By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006 8:27 AM
A majority of Americans favor the confirmation of federal appeals court judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court and an even larger proportion believe Alito would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court ruling that legalized abortion, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
As hearings begin today in the Senate on his nomination, the survey found that 53 percent of the public says Alito should be confirmed to serve on the court--virtually identical to the proportion that supported John Roberts' confirmation as chief justice four months ago. One in four--27 percent--say Alito should be rejected by the Senate.
But one in five Americans remain undecided about the nominee, who is expected to face tough questioning this week by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee over his past writings on abortion, affirmative action, and the constitutional limits on presidential power.
The survey also found that most Americans expect Alito, if confirmed, would not vote to strike down Roe v. Wade. In the weeks since he was appointed by Bush, abortion rights advocates have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to Alito. They fear he may be the fifth and decisive vote on the court to overturn Roe--a decision that would instantly inflame national debate over an issue that already is one of the most divisive in American politics.
Instead, the survey suggests that the public expects Alito to follow a middle course on the court.
According to the poll, 38 percent predict Alito will vote on abortion issues in ways that do not significantly alter Roe. Another 26 percent said they expect Alito to favor greater restrictions on abortion but not to strike down the ruling. Slightly fewer than one in five--18 percent--say they believe he would vote to overturn the decision.
Taken together, the results suggest Alito enters today's Senate hearings on his nomination with the support of most Americans and no clear obstacles to confirmation. While his work as a White House staffer in the 1980s has raised concerns among abortion rights supporters, his writings on abortion have yet to raise similar doubts among the public.
The Alito nomination has yet to galvanize opposition among Democratic rank-and-file, the survey found. Democrats remain split over Alito, with 40 percent supporting the appointment while 39 percent oppose it. Even among liberals, those who oppose him (44 percent) narrowly outnumber supporters (38 percent).
Three in four Republicans--76 percent--favor confirmation while slightly fewer than half of all self-described political independents say Alito should be approved.
A total of 1,001 randomly selected Americans were interviewed Jan. 5-8 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Additional results of this Post-ABC News poll will be available on washingtonpost.com at 5 p.m.