PRINCETON, NJ -- As the Senate begins its confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor Monday, a new Gallup Poll finds Americans in favor of her winning Senate approval, by 53% to 33%. Since late May, shortly after her nomination was announced, the percentage in favor of her confirmation has changed little, but the percentage opposed has increased as the percentage with no opinion has gone down.
These results are based on a July 10-12 Gallup Poll, conducted in the final days before the hearings began. The 53% in favor of Sotomayor's confirmation is in line with those for recent nominees who won confirmation, including Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Clarence Thomas, all of whose pre-hearing ratings were near 50%. It is higher than those of two nominees -- Robert Bork and Harriet Miers -- whose nominations were withdrawn or were defeated by the Senate.
There is not much evidence to suggest that Senate hearings change public support for Supreme Court nominees to a large degree. Gallup took readings for Alito and Roberts immediately before, and upon completion of, their Senate hearings. Support for Alito's confirmation rose only slightly, from 49% to 54% in January 2006. Likewise, the needle barely moved (from 58% to 60%) after Roberts' confirmation hearings in September 2005.
This lack of movement was true even in the case of Thomas, whose hearings attracted national attention after accusations that he had sexually harassed a former colleague. From the initial measurement in July 1991, shortly after his nomination was announced, until immediately before the Senate vote that made him a Supreme Court justice in October 1991, the percentage of Americans in favor of confirming Thomas to the Court did not vary much, ranging only between 52% and 58%. During this time, opposition to Thomas did increase, but only to as high as 30%.
The new poll finds a majority of Americans saying they are following news about Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination very (14%) or somewhat (39%) closely, down slightly from what Gallup measured in May (60%).
Among those following the nomination closely, 56% favor the Senate's voting in favor of her confirmation and 42% oppose it.
Politically, more than 7 in 10 Democrats are in favor of Senate confirmation for Sotomayor, as are 53% of independents. Republicans are about twice as likely to oppose as to favor confirmation. These party figures are little changed since late May.
Sotomayor would be the third female justice in the Supreme Court's history. Men (54%) and women (53%) are about equally likely to support Sotomayor's confirmation. However, men are more likely to say they oppose her being confirmed to the Court while women are more likely to say they do not have an opinion.
Sotomayor Still Unknown to Many
More than a month after Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court by U.S. President Barack Obama, a substantial percentage of Americans still do not have an opinion of her. When asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Sotomayor in general, 36% say they do not have an opinion either way, the same percentage Gallup found in May.
In general, Americans' basic evaluations of Sotomayor are significantly more positive (38%) than negative (26%). Her favorable rating of 38% is down slightly from 43% in May, and her unfavorable rating has increased from 21% to 26%.
It is not clear that this week's Senate hearings will do much to change public sentiment about Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. Typically, Gallup has found little in the way of increased public support for Supreme Court nominees throughout the nomination process. Given that support for Sotomayor's confirmation is right in line with that for prior successful nominees, it is probably not critical for her to raise that support between now and the final Senate vote.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 10-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.