Americans by nearly a 20-point margin say the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court should be left to the winner of the presidential election and a Senate vote next year, contrary to GOP plans for a quick nomination by Donald Trump and vote by the current Senate.
At the same time, in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, the public by as wide a margin opposes increasing the size of the high court to give the winner of the upcoming election more influence over its makeup.
Fifty-seven percent favor delaying action to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a week ago, while 38% prefer to see Trump and the current Senate act, the poll finds. Expanding the court is opposed by 54-32%.
The survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, also finds that Joe Biden leads Trump in trust to handle the issue, by an 8-point margin, 50-42%. Biden’s supporters are far more apt than Trump’s to say the high court vacancy makes it more important to them that he wins the election.
The gap is wide: Among people who support Biden, 64% say the opening on the court makes it more important to them that he wins. Among Trump supporters, just 37% say the same; 62% instead say it makes no difference in the importance they place on his winning.
At the same time, the issue is not the single most dominant one: Eleven percent call the next appointment to the Supreme Court the single most important issue in their choice for president, about half as many as cite the economy as their top issue, 25%. (Among the rest, 17% pick the coronavirus pandemic; 15%, health care; 14%, equal treatment of racial groups; and 12%, crime and safety.)
On this, unlike most issues, there are no differences by partisanship. Essentially equal numbers of Democrats (12%), Republicans (11%) and independents (11%) call the next court vacancy their top issue. It peaks in importance among very conservative adults, at 20%, but 35% in this group focus more on the economy. Similarly, 16% of evangelical white Protestants call it their top issue, while about twice as many cite the economy, 31%, and 19% pick crime and safety.
Ginsburg’s memorial service is today; she is the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Trump has indicated that he’ll nominate her replacement tomorrow, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on the nomination.
There’s a wide gender gap in preferences on how Ginsburg’s seat should be filled. Men divide closely, 50-45%, between preferring action by the election winner and the next Senate, as opposed to Trump and the current Senate. Among women, preference for waiting reaches a 2-1 margin, 64-31%. (The gap is especially wide between women who describe themselves as political independents, 73-23%, vs. with independent men, 49-43%.)
Racial/ethnic gaps are even wider: Whites divide evenly on the question, 49-48%, while Black people favor delay by 88-8%, as do Hispanics by 68-23%.
Partisan divisions are vast; 90% of Democrats say to wait, while 80% of Republicans want action by Trump and the current Senate. Independents side broadly with holding off for the election winner and next Senate, 61-34%.
Preference for waiting until after the election before filling the seat widens, to 62-32%, looking just at results in the 13 states the presidential candidates are mainly contesting. That said, people in these states are no more likely than those elsewhere to call the next appointment to the Supreme Court a top issue in their vote, and they divide evenly in trust to handle it, 47-45%, Biden-Trump.
Among other groups, there’s a sharp split in the ranks of white Protestants, a group that accounts for nearly one in four Americans. Among those who are evangelicals, a core Republican group, 71% favor action by Trump and the current Senate. Among non-evangelical white Protestants, this declines to 39%.
Views on increasing the size of the court also are as partisan, albeit less sharply so. Democrats divide 45-39%, support-oppose. Republicans oppose the idea by 63-25%, and on this question independents side with Republicans, 61-29%.
Views on holding off on action to fill the seat, vs. acting now, differ sharply from preferences on filling Antonin Scalia’s seat four years ago. In an ABC/Post poll in March 2016, Americans by 63-32% said the Senate should hold hearings on Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat, rather than leaving it for the next president. That didn’t happen.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 21-24, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,008 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 31-27-37%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.