Public wants Senate action on court, but interest is modest
WASHINGTON — Nearly 2 in 3 Americans back Democrats' demands that the Republican-run Senate hold hearings and a vote on President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court. But an Associated Press-GfK poll also suggests that GOP defiance against considering the nominee may not hurt the party much because to many people, the election-year fight is simply not a big deal.
Just 1 in 5 in the survey released Wednesday said they've been following the battle over Obama's nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland extremely or very closely.
That included just 26 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans expressing intense interest, along with a scant 8 percent of independents. That aligns with the political reading of the issue by many Republicans that while it motivates each side's most committed partisans, people in the middle consider it a yawner — making the fight essentially a wash.
Another clue that voters not dedicated to either party find the court fight tiresome: While just over half of Democrats and Republicans said the issue is extremely or very important, only around a third of independents said so.
Among people overall, half said the nomination battle is of top-tier importance. But 8 in 10 said that about the economy, and 7 in 10 said so about health care and the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Immigration and the U.S. role in world affairs both attracted slightly more intensity of interest than the court battle.
"It gets me irritated, the bickering and all that kind of stuff," Julie Christopher, 49, a Republican and flight attendant from Fort Worth, Texas, said in a follow-up interview, describing her modest attention to the issue.
Christopher said that while she agrees with the GOP's refusal to hold hearings on Garland, when it comes to backing candidates in November, "That's not going to be my only thing, like boom, I'm not going to vote for them."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was among several senators who met privately Wednesday with Garland as he continues courtesy calls on lawmakers.
Ayotte, who faces a competitive re-election this fall, said in a statement that she told him with a "vigorous" presidential campaign underway, "the confirmation process should wait until the people have spoken in November" and a new president is chosen.
Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his chamber would not consider an Obama nominee and would instead wait until the president elected this November makes a pick. With the remaining justices split 4-4 between those leaning conservative or liberal, most GOP senators have lined up behind McConnell.
Democrats have been spewing outrage ever since. Along with liberal groups, they've been using television ads, news conferences, public demonstrations and Senate speeches to ratchet up pressure on GOP senators, especially those facing re-election this fall in swing and Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Democrats' theory is that the public wants Republicans to end their obstruction and let the Senate do its job, forcing GOP senators to relent on Garland or risk defeat in November. The AP-GfK poll has some data backing that up.
The 64 percent who favor hearings and a vote this year on Garland include an overwhelming proportion of Democrats and a sizable minority of Republicans, 40 percent. Independents, who can be pivotal in closely divided states, back action this year, 52 percent to 36 percent.
"I'd rather see at least deliberations, and see Congress do its job," said Marc Frigon, 33, a high-tech worker from Beverly, Massachusetts, who leans Republican and wants the Senate to reject Garland's confirmation. "I feel like that's why we elected them in the first place."
Just over half of moderate and liberal Republicans want the Senate to hold hearings this year, while fewer than 3 in 10 GOP conservatives say that.
Overall, people say by 59 percent to 36 percent that they want the Senate to approve Garland should a vote be held. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats favor confirmation and independents tilt slightly that way, while 69 percent of Republicans favor rejecting him.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't have access to the Internet were provided access for free.
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