The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A majority say Merrick Garland should be confirmed. But that means less than you think.

Since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, polls have established that a majority of Americans think the Senate should at least consider President Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy.

But in politics, understanding what people support is often less important than understanding what they'll actually vote on. And a new poll from Gallup suggests Americans -- and especially independents -- aren't yet demanding that the Senate confirm Merrick Garland.

Gallup is the first major national telephone poll to survey Americans' opinions on whether the Senate should confirm Garland to the Supreme Court. (Obama nominated the judge on Wednesday.) The results show that Garland, who is viewed as a safe consensus pick by Obama, is indeed supported by a majority of Americans, with 52 percent in favor and 29 percent opposed.

Good news for Democrats, right?

Well, 59 percent said they have heard or read "very little" or "nothing at all" about Garland's qualifications and record. And his numbers are also very par-for-course for just-nominated Supreme Court picks, as the below chart from Gallup shows:

Given how many voters are undecided or unfamiliar with Garland, it's too early to draw conclusions about how -- or whether -- the confirmation battle will influence Americans' votes in November. But these numbers indicate that Democrats' efforts to make this into a cause celebre over the past month haven't lit too much of a fuse.

Democrats are trying to make Senate Republicans' refusal to consider Garland an election issue that can help them take back the Senate in November. They are trying to leverage public support for Garland to make this something Republicans simply can't ignore.

To do that, they're going to need independents to side with Democrats in a handful of competitive Senate elections in swing and blue states. Senate Democrats are hoping Garland is one of the reasons those voters will oust Republican incumbents in favor of a Democrat -- or at least that this possibility will cause some of these GOP senators to flip and call for Garland's consideration.

4 scenarios that could still put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court

On principle, polls indicate most independents agree with that argument. By a margin of 2-to-1 in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, independents said the Senate should at least consider Obama's nominee to the court.

But independents don't feel strongly one way or another that Garland should be confirmed, with Gallup's numbers showing 44 percent in favor and 31 percent opposed.

Those numbers are actually pretty similar to what they were for Elena Kagan -- Obama's last Supreme Court nominee in 2010 -- and worse than they were for Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. Indeed, a big reason Garland has majority support overall right now is because he has an unusually high amount of support from Republicans -- 33 percent. Will those Republicans ditch their party for holding up Garland's nomination, though? We'd venture to say probably not.

The GOP is banking on the idea that their blockade of Garland won't incense voters who either don't care or aren't paying attention to the process of how a Supreme Court justice gets confirmed. Of course, Garland's nomination is just days old, and a majority of Americans have yet to learn much about him. There's plenty of room for both sides to make their case about why the Senate should -- or shouldn't -- consider this particular nominee.

But this poll, while showing majority support for Garland's confirmation, doesn't exactly scream that this is Democrats' silver bullet.