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Support for Gorsuch Lower Than for Other Recent Court Picks

Support for Gorsuch Lower Than for Other Recent Court Picks

Chart: data points are described in article

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' initial reaction to President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is more positive than negative -- 45% say the Senate should vote to confirm Gorsuch while 32% say it should not. However, support for confirming Gorsuch is lower than what Gallup has found for most recent Supreme Court nominees in the first days after presidents announced their selection.

Initial Support for Confirmation of Recent Supreme Court Nominees
Would you like to see the Senate vote in favor of [name of nominee] serving on the Supreme Court, or not?
Date of poll Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Neil Gorsuch 2017 Feb 1-2 45 32 23
Merrick Garland 2016 Mar 18-19 52 29 19
Elena Kagan 2010 May 24-25 46 32 22
Sonia Sotomayor 2009 May 29-31 54 28 19
Samuel Alito 2005 Nov 7-10 50 25 25
Harriet Miers 2005 Oct 13-16 44 36 20
John Roberts 2005 Jul 22-24 59 22 19
Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1993 Jun 18-21 53 14 33
Clarence Thomas 1991 Jul 11-14 52 17 31
Average for all nominees 51 26 23
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination made. No measure for Stephen Breyer.

Gallup has gauged initial public support for all recent Supreme Court nominees since 1991 except current Justice Stephen Breyer. While a substantial proportion of Americans -- typically about one in four -- do not have an opinion, most express one. The average level of support for recent nominees has been 51%.

Current Chief Justice John Roberts had the highest initial support of recent nominees, at 59%. Harriet Miers, whose nomination President George W. Bush ultimately withdrew, had the lowest support at 44%. Current Justice Elena Kagan also had below-average support, at 46%.

Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy Gorsuch is now slated to fill, had higher support (52%) than Gorsuch does. Republicans in the Senate refused to consider Garland's nomination, arguing that presidents in their final year should not get to fill court vacancies. Democrats in the Senate are now pondering whether to obstruct Gorsuch's nomination.

Gallup trends show that most nominees continue to enjoy more public support than opposition during the process leading to confirmation. The average for the nominees in Gallup's final reading has been 53%, just slightly higher than the average 51% initial support. Meanwhile, as the percentage with no opinion decreases, opposition usually increases, from an average of 26% initially to 34% in Gallup's final measures.

Of the two nominees whose initial ratings were most similar to Gorsuch's -- Kagan and Miers -- Kagan's support held steady through her confirmation process and she was confirmed, while Miers' support fell and she was derailed. Thus, Gorsuch's fate could partly depend on whether public opposition to his being confirmed rises in the coming months.

Final Support for Confirmation of Recent Supreme Court Nominees
Date of poll Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Elena Kagan 2010 Jul 27-Aug 1 46 36 18
Sonia Sotomayor 2009 Jul 17-19 55 36 9
Samuel Alito 2006 Jan 20-22 54 30 16
Harriet Miers 2005 Oct 21-23 42 43 15
John Roberts 2005 Sep 16-18 60 26 14
Clarence Thomas 1991 Oct 14 58 30 12
Average for all nominees 53 34 14
Gallup did only an initial measure on Ginsburg and Garland. No measures for Breyer.

One sign that Gorsuch's nomination could become seriously imperiled is if Americans become divided as to whether the Senate should confirm him. That has happened for only two recent nominees -- Miers and Robert Bork -- and neither was ultimately confirmed. Gallup did not poll on Bork's July 1987 nomination until much later in the process when it became controversial. Prior to the Senate vote that denied Bork a seat on the court, 38% of Americans were in favor of his confirmation and 35% opposed.

Democrats Show Record-Low Support for Gorsuch

The poll finds 74% of Republicans, 44% of independents and 21% of Democrats in favor of Gorsuch being confirmed to the Supreme Court. A majority of Democrats (57%) oppose his confirmation.

Initial opinion on Obama's nominees was similarly divided along party lines. As with Democrats' opposition to Gorsuch, a majority of Republicans opposed each of Obama's nominees. Meanwhile, an average of 73% of Democrats favored each of Obama's nominees.

Nominees prior to 2009 also typically enjoyed strong support among those who identified with the president's party. But majority opposition from the other party has been a more recent development, likely resulting from the growing political divide in evaluating presidents and their actions.

Only Miers engendered majority opposition by any party group among the 1991 through 2005 court nominees. At least initially, more Democrats supported than opposed both Roberts' and Thomas' confirmations, and more Republicans favored than opposed seating Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

The 57% of Democrats opposed to Gorsuch's nomination ties Republicans' opposition to Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 as the highest in Gallup's records. Gorsuch's 21% support among Democrats is the lowest Gallup has measured for a nominee among a party group to date.

Initial Support for Supreme Court Nominees, by Political Party
Vote in favor Not vote in favor No opinion
% % %
Gorsuch 74 8 17
Garland 33 51 16
Kagan 26 51 22
Sotomayor 24 57 20
Alito 73 11 16
Miers 73 16 11
Roberts 82 5 13
Ginsburg 41 25 34
Thomas 63 10 27
Gorsuch 21 57 22
Garland 76 11 14
Kagan 68 12 20
Sotomayor 76 6 17
Alito 35 40 25
Miers 27 53 20
Roberts 42 35 23
Ginsburg 65 6 29
Thomas 45 25 31
Gorsuch 44 31 25
Garland 44 31 25
Kagan 43 33 25
Sotomayor 54 27 19
Alito 43 26 31
Miers 39 34 27
Roberts 54 24 22
Ginsburg 52 12 36
Thomas 48 17 35
Gorsuch, Alito, Miers, Roberts and Thomas nominated by Republican presidents; Garland, Kagan, Sotomayor and Ginsburg nominated by Democratic presidents

Independents have been more likely to favor than oppose the confirmation of presidents' Supreme Court nominees, with Miers showing the narrowest margin. Notably, independents' support for Gorsuch exactly matches their support for Garland.


The quest to fill Justice Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat after his February 2016 death will continue to play out. Senate Democrats may elect to filibuster during the debate on Gorsuch's nomination, thus blocking a confirmation vote. Such an action would likely please Democratic Party supporters, a majority of whom oppose Gorsuch's nomination. But despite Democrats' opposition, Americans overall are more likely to favor than oppose Gorsuch's nomination.

Democratic officials opposed to seating Gorsuch on the court may get some political cover if public opinion turns against him, as it did for Miers and Bork. But Americans' greater support than opposition to Garland's nomination didn't help convince Republicans to act on it, so public opinion may not be enough to save Gorsuch if Democrats are intent on blocking him. Senate Republicans could, however, vote to change long-standing Senate rules to require a simple majority vote to end debate on Supreme Court nominations, the so-called "nuclear option," allowing them to hold a final vote on Gorsuch.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-2, 2017, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

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