Poll: Roberts Nomination Wins Broad Favor

John Roberts' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is popular overall, but most Americans want to hear more about his legal views -- including his opinion on Roe v. Wade, a ruling that nearly two-thirds would want to see upheld.

Fifty-nine percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say the Senate should confirm Roberts, putting his nomination in a good initial position. Where it goes from here is an open question. Fourteen years ago, Clarence Thomas started with 63 percent support; it dived after allegations of sexual harassment emerged, then recovered.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Majorities clearly want to hear details from Roberts, who lacks a long judicial record. Sixty-one percent say that at his confirmation hearing he should answer questions about how he would have ruled on past Supreme Court cases. And 64 percent say Roberts should state his position specifically on abortion.

His view on abortion -- the elephant in the room at Supreme Court hearings -- is unclear. As a lawyer in George H.W. Bush's administration, Roberts filed a brief arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Years later, at his confirmation hearing for the appeals court in 2003, he called Roe "the settled law of the land."

In this survey, 65 percent say that if Roe came before the court again, they'd want Roberts to vote to uphold it. Attitudes on abortion do get more complex from there; most Americans long have supported legal abortion in general, but not when done solely to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Notably, by very large margins, people who say it's not necessary for Roberts to state his position on previous cases, and specifically on Roe, are those who already support his nomination. And people who want Roe overturned are about 20 points more likely to favor his confirmation. Seventy-three percent of Roe opponents want Roberts confirmed, compared with 52 percent (still a narrow majority) of Roe supporters.


There's a sharp division on the question of constitutional interpretation. Fifty percent of Americans say the high court should base its rulings on an understanding of what the Constitution means in current times; but about as many, 46 percent, say the court should rule based on its understanding of the Constitution as originally written.

Roberts is more popular with the "original intent" camp: Among those who prefer a view of the Constitution as written, 67 percent support his nomination. Support drops to 51 percent among those who prefer a more current understanding.

There's also a division on whether qualifications or judicial philosophy should be paramount in the Roberts hearings. Fifty-three percent say senators should support the nomination if they believe Roberts has the right qualifications, even if they disagree with his judicial philosophy. Forty-one percent say such senators should vote no.

Views on this issue also inform differences on the nomination itself. Among those who think qualifications should be paramount, 79 percent favor confirmation. Among those who say judicial philosophy is key, support for the nomination drops steeply, to just 37 percent.


Naturally, partisanship also fuels big differences. Eighty-four percent of Republicans say Roberts should be confirmed; just 41 percent of Democrats agree. Independents, as usual, make the difference, and 58 percent favor the nomination.

Ideological splits are similar. Seventy-three percent of conservatives support the nomination, compared with 59 percent of moderates and 40 percent of liberals. It's noteworthy that liberals divide about evenly on the nomination (40 percent-43 percent) as do Democrats (41 percent-40 percent) -- in neither group does a majority oppose it.

Constitutional Preference:
  Original Intent Current Meaning
All   46%   50%
Democrats   31   64
Independents   53   45
Republicans   55   43
Liberals   33   63
Moderates   39   56
Conservatives   63   34
Age 18 to 34   37   61
Age 35 to 54   45   48
Age 55+   57   41
Evangelical Protestants   62   33
Non-Evangelical Protestants   51   45
Catholics   34   63
Uphold Roe   41   56
Overturn Roe   57   41
Court Too Liberal   68   29
Court Balanced   41   56
Court Too Conservative   33   60


Despite characterizations of the court as more conservative than in years past, just 19 percent of Americans see it as too conservative -- about the same number as see it as too liberal (22 percent). Fifty-five percent instead see it as generally balanced.

As for Roberts, 26 percent say he's a more conservative nominee than they'd have liked, considerably more than the 9 percent who say he's less conservative than they wanted. Again, though, most -- 58 percent -- think he's well-placed on the ideological spectrum.

This poll does find that ideological dissatisfaction with the court is greater among Republicans than among other Americans. Forty-two percent of Republicans call the court too liberal, while fewer Democrats, 28 percent, say it's too conservative.

Naturally, Roberts' support is greatest among people who say the court currently is too liberal -- 83 percent in this group say he should be confirmed. Among those who say it's already too conservative, just about half as many favor his confirmation. And again the middle tilts in his favor: Among those who see the court as generally balanced, 57 percent support his nomination.

Hearings and Interest

Despite these divisions, there's only muted concern that the parties will go over the top in debating the nomination. Thirty-six percent of Americans think the Senate Democrats will be too aggressive in handling it, and slightly fewer, 29 percent, think the Republicans will be too aggressive. In both cases, most think they'll handle it either about right, or not aggressively enough.

Many are paying attention: Fifty-six percent are closely following the news about the Roberts nomination, 20 percent "very" closely. That's a respectable level of public attention (about the same as attention on the CIA leak investigation), albeit not as great as the attention paid to very high-interest events.

Older Americans are much more likely to be following the issue; younger adults, who tend to be less engaged politically, are much less apt to be paying attention (74 percent of those 55 and older are following it closely, compared with 38 percent of those under 35). Attention also is 13 points higher among men than among women, 63 versus 50 percent.


One disappointment about Roberts in some quarters is that a woman wasn't named to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; about a third of Americans, 34 percent, say they're disappointed Bush didn't pick a woman for the position. (Forty-one percent of women are disappointed, compared with 27 percent of men.)

Support for Roberts' confirmation is far lower among those who'd liked to have seen a woman nominated (35 percent in this group say he should be confirmed) than among those who aren't disappointed, among whom 73 percent favor confirmation.

O'Connor herself, while calling Roberts "first rate," said she was "disappointed, in a sense, to see the percentage of women on our court drop by 50 percent."

More Intent

There are fascinating divisions on the issue of original intent versus current understanding of the Constitution. Most older adults favor a reading based on original intent, by 57 percent-41 percent; but most young adults prefer a current reading, by 61 percent-37 percent. Democrats and liberals broadly prefer a current understanding; conservatives and Republicans (albeit to a somewhat lesser extent) prefer original intent.

There are religion- and issue-based differences as well. Evangelical Protestants prefer original intent by about 2-1, while Catholics prefer a current view of the Constitution by as broad a margin. People who want Roe overturned are more apt to favor original intent; those who want it upheld prefer a current reading of the founding document.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 21, 2005, among a random national sample of 500 adults. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

Click here for more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.