Public support for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork has continued to erode, but a majority of Americans agree with Bork that the politically charged atmosphere surrounding his nomination should not be part of future confirmation battles, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News Poll.
The poll, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, showed for the first time that a majority of Americans oppose Bork's confirmation by the Senate, where 54 senators are publicly committed to vote against the nomination. Fifty-two percent of the respondents said they disapprove of the nomination, an increase from the 49 percent who opposed Bork's confirmation in the last Post/ABC News Poll, conducted in mid-September.
There appeared to be an even sharper shift among those who approve of the nomination. The pro-Bork segment of the population declined from 44 percent in September to 38 percent in the latest poll.
The poll results were released as Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) abandoned his effort to begin the Senate floor debate on the nomination this week. Byrd said the debate would begin Monday, but when he sought agreement to vote on the nomination Tuesday, Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) objected. Conservative Senate Republicans, arguing that they need additional time to correct "distortions" of Bork's record, have refused to accept a deadline for ending debate and voting on the nomination.
Meanwhile, an official of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) confirmed that the organization, which is $3 million in debt, has launched a computerized telephone campaign in 18 states urging support for Bork along with an appeal for contributions to NCPAC. The campaign is aimed at 26 senators, all but three of whom have announced opposition to Bork.
Sandy Scholte, NCPAC's executive and political director, denied charges by Byrd and other Democrats that the telephone calls were an attempt to use the Bork nomination to raise money for the financially pressed organization even though the campaign started after
In all, 1,005 people 18 years old or older in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone at random, including 832 who said they had read or heard of the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court.
The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points, and 4 percentage points for results based on only those who have read or heard of the Bork nomination. The techniques used to complete this sample in two days, as well as the practical difficulties of conducting any public opinion poll, represent additional potential sources of error. The survey was developed and the results analyzed by Richard Morin, director of polling for The Washington Post, and Kenneth E. John, polling analyst. Bork and his allies had conceded that the nomination is doomed.
The Post/ABC News Poll, which was based on answers from the 78 percent of the public that said it was aware of the Bork nomination, suggested there is widespread public discontent with the political aspects of the confirmation fight. A majority of 56 percent agreed with the charge Bork made last week, when he announced he would not withdraw his name from consideration, that the process of confirming Supreme Court justices "has been changed in a way that should not . . . be permitted to occur again."
In a speech last night to Republican governors, President Reagan quoted those words and repeated his assertion that a "campaign of distortion and disinformation" had been used by Bork's opponents.
But the poll cast doubt on assertions that the Senate's all-but-certain rejection of the nomination resulted from the public media campaign waged against Bork by a coalition of liberal organizations. According to the poll, anti-Bork advertisements reached twice as many people as pro-Bork messages, but the vast majority of respondents said they had not seen or heard any advertisements on the nomination.
The reason cited most often for opposition to Bork was his record and views on racial issues, raised by 20 percent of the respondents. The poll also showed that the steady decline in public support for Bork continued in all segments of the population, but was most pronounced among self-described conservatives, whose backing of the nomination dropped from 65 percent in September to 55 percent.
While 55 percent of the respondents said they considered Bork qualified to serve on the high court, 59 percent said a nominee's political views, not just his background and qualifications, should be considered in the confirmation process.
A majority of 54 percent said Bork had been treated fairly by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Byrd called NCPAC's pro-Bork telephone campaign a "fund-raising gimmick" and linked it to delays in agreeing on a time to vote on the nomination.
Scholte said NCPAC's first messages were used in Texas beginning Sunday, two days after Bork demanded a Senate vote but said he had "no illusions" about the outcome. She said the telephone campaign, involving a projected 2.1 million computerized calls, is scheduled to end Tuesday.