PRINCETON, NJ -- A USA Today/Gallup poll finds just under half of Americans, 46%, in favor of the Senate's confirming Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. That level of support is generally lower than what Gallup has found when it first polled about other recent court nominations, trailing all others except Harriet Miers and Robert Bork.
Generally, initial public support for Supreme Court nominees has not been high, reaching only 59% for John Roberts. This is partly because substantial proportions of Americans do not have opinions of the men and women chosen for the court. The level of unfamiliarity with recent nominees has varied from a low of 19% for Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor to a high of 44% for Bork.
The variation in the percentage of Americans who have no opinion of the nominees complicates historical comparisons. However, Kagan's relatively low historical ranking holds up even when one calculates the percentage in favor of her nomination only among those who have an opinion. The 59% of those with an opinion of the Kagan nomination who support her confirmation exceeds only the 55% of those with an opinion of the Miers and Bork nominations who supported their confirmations. Using this standard, Americans were initially most supportive of the nominations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, and Roberts.
The generally tepid response to Kagan's nomination echoes what Gallup found in its immediate-reaction poll to her nomination last month, when 40% rated President Obama's choice of her positively.
Support for Kagan Nomination by Subgroup
Democrats largely support Kagan's nomination, with 68% in favor and 12% opposed. On the other hand, a slim majority of Republicans, 51%, are opposed, with 26% in favor. Independents are more likely to favor than oppose the nomination.
Kagan, seeking to become the third woman on the current Supreme Court, and the fourth in history, receives about equal support from men (45%) and women (47%), though men are more likely than women to oppose her confirmation (36% to 28%).
Kagan's Senate confirmation hearings are set to begin later this month. In its history of polling about Supreme Court nominees, Gallup has generally found little change in the percentage favoring their confirmation during the confirmation process. To the extent that opinions change, it is generally in terms of a reduction in the percentage with no opinion and an increase in the percentage opposed.
The two other nominees who began the process with less than majority public backing ultimately were not confirmed: Miers' nomination was withdrawn and Bork's nomination was rejected in the Senate confirmation vote. At this point in the process, however, there does not seem to be much in Kagan's background or in the political environment that would prevent her from becoming the first nominee to win confirmation with less than majority initial public backing.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted May 24-25, 2010, with a random sample of 1,049 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using a random-digit-dial sampling technique.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the age 18+ non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.