Initial public reaction to new U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. was generally favorable but far from enthusiastic as half the country say he should be confirmed by the Senate and fewer than a third view him as too conservative, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Alito begins the confirmation process with the support of 49 percent of the public, while 30 percent currently say he should not be confirmed, the poll found. One in four Americans -- 24 percent -- did not yet know enough about him to make a judgment.
The poll suggests that Alito's supporters had some reason for concern. Initial public reaction to Alito was considerably less favorable than it has been to a number of other successful court nominees, according to Post-ABC News polls. Nearly six in 10 initially backed John Roberts after President Bush named him in July for a court seat. A similarly large majority first supported current Justice Clarence Thomas when he was nominated by Bush's father in 1991. Thomas went on to face a bitter confirmation hearing while Roberts sailed through the Senate.
The survey also suggests that the Alito nomination may quickly emerge as one of the most divisive partisan and ideological battles of the Bush presidency. Currently, 73 percent of all Republicans say he should be confirmed, compared to 33 percent of all Democrats. Six in 10 political conservatives support Alito, compared to slightly more than a third of all liberals and about half of all moderates. Still, many on both sides of the partisan and ideological divide say they have yet to make up their minds about Alito.
Early attempts by Alito's opponents to cast him as too conservative have yet to convince most Americans, the poll found. More than four in 10 -- 44 percent -- said his views appear "about right." Three in 10 said Alito was more conservative than they would have liked, while 8 percent said they would have preferred someone further to the right.
Nor does it seem that his most controversial ruling on abortion stands as a major roadblock to confirmation. In 1991, Alito voted to uphold a Pennsylvania state law requiring a wife to inform her husband if she decides to get an abortion. Nearly half -- 46 percent -- said Alito's decision doesn't change their opinion of him. Twenty-seven percent said his ruling in this case makes them more likely to support him, while 26 percent said it makes them more likely to oppose him.
Alito may run up against more public opposition over his views on Roe v. Wade. Alito's current position on the controversial ruling that legalized abortion 32 years ago is not publicly known. But some analysts say his previous appellate court rulings suggest he might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade -- a move that would be opposed by most Americans.
Nearly three in four -- 64 percent -- said Alito should rule in favor of Roe v. Wade if it comes before the court again, while 31 percent said he should vote to overturn it.
A total of 641 randomly selected Americans were interviewed Monday through yesterday for this Post-ABC News poll. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Additional results of this poll, including President Bush's latest job approval ratings and public views on the war in Iraq, will be available on washingtonpost.com at 5 p.m. today.