Sotomayor Holds the Center… and a Bit More

Jul 21, 2009 6:00am

The following guest post was written by Giovanni Russonello, Polling Unit intern.

Sonia Sotomayor has emerged from her Senate confirmation hearings with majority public support for her nomination to the Supreme Court, holding the political center and even keeping some conservatives at her side.

Overall 58 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the judge should be confirmed, much like the 62 percent who said so last month. Thirty percent oppose her, up slightly from 25 percent in June, with the rest undecided.

While Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were expected to delay today's scheduled vote on the nomination, Sotomayor's confirmation nonetheless seems likely as the first Hispanic justice on the high court. Her backing in this poll is on par with that of previous successful nominees.

One surprising result is the division among conservatives: While 50 percent oppose Sotomayor’s nomination, that’s less than a clear majority, and indeed 40 percent of conservatives support her. So do 43 percent of evangelical white Protestants, a core Republican group, with fewer than half, 48 percent, opposed. She’s weaker, though, among Republicans themselves, with just 28 percent in favor, 57 percent opposed.

Opposition among Republicans is up 14 points from last month, with fewer undecided. But the center has held for the judge: She’s backed by 60 percent of independents and 65 percent of moderates, as well as nearly eight in 10 Democrats and liberals alike.

Sotomayor avoided controversy at her hearings, expressing fidelity to the Constitution and backing off her statement in speeches that a “wise Latina woman” may come to a “better conclusion” than a white male judge. The issue does not appear to have hurt her significantly; in the ABC/Post poll in June, large majorities rejected the notion that her sex, race or ethnicity play a negative role in how she decides cases.

Nonetheless, her support remains much stronger among non-whites, 76 percent, than among whites, 52 percent. With data from the past two polls combined for sufficient sample sizes, 73 percent of Hispanics and 85 percent of blacks favor her confirmation.

Sotomatayor’s supported by 56 percent of women, down from 63 percent last month; the change has occurred among Republican and independent women, down 14 and 11 points, respectively. Her support among men has held steady at about 60 percent.

While she's lost ground among Republicans, the biggest positive change in Sotomayor's support had come among the most-educated Americans: Seventy-five percent of those with a postgraduate education back her nomination, up from 60 percent before her confirmation hearings.

Part of Sotomayor’s support, finally, is associated with her sponsor: While Barack Obama’s approval rating has dropped, it’s a still-healthy 59 percent – and 78 percent of his supporters favor Sotomayor’s confirmation. Among those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance, by contrast, her support plummets to 28 percent.

Click here for a PDF with the full questionnaire.

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