Americans: Burris Should Be Blocked, Special Election Held

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Fifty-two percent say hold a special election to fill Obama’s seat

PRINCETON, NJ -- Given a choice, Americans are most likely to prefer a special election to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat as opposed to leaving the seat open until embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich's status is resolved, or allowing Blagojevich appointee Roland Burris to serve.


These results are based on a one-night USA Today/Gallup reaction poll conducted Jan. 5.

The poll finds 59% of Americans saying they are following the Illinois Senate controversy very or somewhat closely.

Incumbent governors have the power to appoint a replacement when a Senate seat is vacant, but after Blagojevich was charged with attempting to illegally profit from naming Obama's successor, it was unclear how the seat would be filled. Last week, Blagojevich -- who has defiantly stayed in office despite calls for his resignation and growing momentum to impeach him -- appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the Senate vacancy.

Burris himself came to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to be sworn in, but the Senate turned him back. The poll asked Americans what the Senate should do if this occurred, and a majority would seem to support the Senate's action, as 51% said it should "block Burris from filling the seat," while 27% said the Senate "should allow Burris to fill the seat." About one in five had no opinion.

Those who are following the controversy very closely showed somewhat greater support for seating Burris (37%), but a majority of this group still favored blocking him (57%).

Republicans were slightly more likely to favor blocking Burris' appointment than Democrats or independents. That partisan difference may reflect a desire on the part of Republicans to have one less Democrat in the Senate rather than opposition to Burris himself.


Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to favor a special election to fill the Obama vacancy, while Democrats are more inclined to support allowing Burris to serve until the next scheduled election in 2010.


Similarly, those who are following the controversy very closely are more likely to say that the Illinois government should to allow Burris to serve, but a majority of this highly attentive group still favors holding a special election.


The poll also asked Americans to say what role, if any, Obama should have in finding his successor. Americans seem to prefer a "hands-off" approach for the president-elect, as a majority (51%) say he should not be involved at all. Fewer than one in three believe Obama should have "a great deal" (12%) or "fair amount" (17%) of involvement in this matter.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 5, 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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline 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.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

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