DNC Poll: Americans Down on ‘Nuke Option’

As the fight over a Republican plan to end filibusters on judicial nominations percolates on Capitol Hill, a new Democratic poll shows Americans are decidedly opposed to a change in Senate rules.

The survey, which was conducted by Westhill Partners for the Democratic National Committee, represents a warning shot by party members to their Republican colleagues concerning the use of the so-called “nuclear option” regarding judges.

It was in the field March 31 to April 3, testing 800 registered voters with a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The survey’s two poll questions, obtained by Roll Call on Wednesday, begin by introducing the idea of a filibuster (“where one party engages in a prolonged debate”) and explains that both parties have utilized the tactic in the past.

“Senate Republican leaders, whose party is now in the majority, want to change the rules to require only 51 votes to end a filibuster — thereby eliminating the current system of checks and balances on the majority party,” the question continues, before asking whether voters approve or disapprove of “allowing all of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees to get voted on by the Senate.”

Forty-eight percent of those tested either somewhat or strongly disapprove of such a move while 30 percent somewhat or strongly approve.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are the strongest supporters of the plan (47 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove), and Democrats are strongly opposed (17 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove). Independents also break heavily against the proposal (29 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove).

The second question mirrors the first’s language but adds: “Senate Democratic leaders have threatened to slow down or stop almost all but the most essential legislative business” should Republicans move to end judicial filibusters.

Forty-eight percent approve of this tactic while 35 percent disapprove.

Jim Jordan, a partner with Westhill, said the poll clearly shows Senate Republicans are swimming in dangerous waters on the issue.

“Especially in the shadow of the Schiavo debacle and [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay’s ethics meltdown, it sure looks like [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist is leading his caucus into a political buzzsaw.”

Jordan added that the survey shows voters are paying attention to the seemingly arcane parliamentary fight and “Republicans are simply confirming and hardening the negative impressions of their party and this Congress.”

Not so, said Republican pollster Whit Ayres of Ayres, McHenry and Associates, who conducted a March survey on judicial nominees that produced vastly different results.

Referring to the Westhill poll, Ayres said, “If you say you approve of that question it says you want to repeal the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

In his own survey, Ayres asked voters whether they believed a “well qualified” nominee to the Supreme Court “deserved an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.”

Eighty-one percent of respondents agreed with that supposition compared to just 10 percent who disagreed.

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