Congress Gets Thumbs Down for Stepping Into Schiavo Case

by Lydia Saad

Majority of public believes feeding tube should be removed

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- When Congress got involved in the Terri Schiavo feeding tube case last month, it set off a political controversy reminiscent of the furor over the U.S. Supreme Court's involvement in Florida's 2000 presidential vote dispute. This time, the public is even more critical of the government's actions.

According to an April 1-2 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, a slim majority of Americans believe Schiavo's feeding tube should have been removed -- aligning them with Schiavo's husband Michael who said this would have been Terri's wish. About 4 in 10 Americans said it should not have been removed -- aligning them with Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who sought every legal avenue to restore Terri's feeding tube. These poll results, obtained after Schiavo's death on March 31, reflect an increase in opposition to the removal of the tube compared to mid-March data.

The latest results are the same, regardless of whether or not the question describes Schiavo as being in a "persistent vegetative state." In a split sample experiment, Gallup found 53% saying the feeding tube should have been removed in response to a question stating that she has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990. Gallup found 52% saying the tube should have been removed in response to a question that did not describe her medical condition.

The current poll shows that Congress' decision to legally intervene and give the Schindler's the ability to take their case against Michael Schiavo to a federal court is widely unpopular (as has been reflected in a number of other polls conducted in recent weeks). Only 20% of Americans approve of Congress' involvement, while three-quarters (76%) disapprove.

Congress Knocked from Both Sides

Not unexpectedly, strong majorities of Democrats and those who favored the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube disapprove of Congress' action in this case. More surprisingly, so do majorities of Republicans and those who wanted to see her feeding tube reinserted. Specifically, 86% of Democrats and 87% of those who think Schiavo's feeding tube should have been removed say they disapprove of Congress' decision. The decision is also disapproved by 65% of Republicans and 59% of those who preferred that the feeding tube be reinserted.

This is notable given the generally partisan tone of the debate over the legislation that provided for federal court review of the Schiavo case, with Republican lawmakers leading the effort to pass the bill and President George W. Bush rushing back to Washington in the middle of the night to sign it. The bill passed with overwhelming Republican support (156 voted yes, 5 voted no) while the Democrats present were divided (47-53).

Bush Also Scores Poorly on Schiavo Case

Americans are only marginally more positive about Bush's handling of the Schiavo case. One-third of Americans (34%) approve of his handling of the case, while 53% disapprove and 13% have no opinion. A slim majority of Republicans (55%) approves of Bush's handling of the issue, while majorities of Democrats (68%) and independents (57%) disapprove.

Bush's overall job approval rating registered an all-time low of 45% in a poll conducted March 21-23 -- immediately following Bush's signing of the Schiavo bill -- down from 52% in polling conducted the three days prior. But Gallup analysis of that decline suggests that a downturn in Americans' economic confidence could also have been a major contributing factor.

At 48%, Bush's current job approval rating has yet to fully recover. If indeed Bush's position on the Schiavo case harmed him in the eyes of the public, it is possible that harm remains.

At the same time, Americans' more personal impression of Bush remains positive. Fifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Bush and 45% have an unfavorable opinion. These are similar to his 56% favorable and 42% unfavorable ratings recorded in late February.

The Schiavo case may have had a greater impact on public opinion about lesser known political figures, such as House Republican Leader Tom Delay. While Delay's favorable rating is virtually unchanged compared to early February (27% now, 29% in February), his unfavorable rating has increased slightly over the same period, from 24% to 31%. An additional 42% have no opinion of Delay. Current ratings of Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist are similar: 26% have a favorable view of him, 24% have an unfavorable view, and 50% don't know enough to offer an opinion.

The Moralizing Majority

The Republican Party is more likely than is the Democratic Party to be seen as using its political power to moralize to Americans about private matters. More than half of Americans say the Republican Party is "trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans." Forty percent say the same of the Democratic Party.

Still, favorable ratings of the Republican and Democratic parties show no obvious signs of decline in the wake of the Schiavo controversy. Exactly half of Americans view each party favorably, while 42-44% view them unfavorably. These ratings are very similar to where they stood in late February, and represent about the average of all the favorable and unfavorable ratings recorded for each party during the past year.

Limited Support for a Broader Bill

When crafting the Schiavo bill, Congress initially considered legislation that would give all advocates of "incapacitated persons" access to the federal courts. According to The New York Times, the final bill -- which limited this legal remedy to Schiavo's case -- was passed with the understanding that Congress would revisit the issue of broader legislation in the future.

Only 37% of Americans desire substantial changes to the way state and federal courts handle future cases similar to Schiavo's. The majority (60%) says this requires either minor changes or no changes.

Americans perceive that a significant proportion of judges allow their political views to "inappropriately influence their decisions on cases": 35% say all or most judges do this, 33% say about half do this, and 29% say only a few or no judges do this.

Still, Gallup finds no great public demand for legislative changes in this area. Less than half of the public (47%) says that "changes to how the federal courts handle moral issues" ought to be a very or extremely important priority for the president and Congress.

Finally, the motives of President Bush and the Republican Congress over the Schiavo case have been called into question. Fueled by news accounts of an unsigned memo circulated on Capitol Hill that called the Schiavo case a "great political issue," some have charged Republicans with being more interested in appealing to the conservative base of the party than in saving Schiavo's life.

Recent ABC News and CBS News polls have both showed that this charge resonates with the public. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans tend to believe that Congress passed this bill more because of political concerns than because of the principles involved.

Yet when asked about the influence of the religious right on national Republican leaders, the majority of Americans are uncritical. While 39% think the religious right has "too much influence" on either President Bush or the Republicans in Congress, the rest say the amount of influence is either just right or too little.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,040 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 1-2, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. For results based on the 519 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 521 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

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.

2. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2005 Apr 1-2

(sorted by "approve")


Approve


Disapprove

%

%

Terrorism

57

40

Overall job approval

48

48

The situation in Iraq

43

54

The economy

41

55

Social Security

35

57

The Terri Schiavo case

34

53

4. Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them. First, ... How about... [ITEM A READ, THEN ITEMS B-D ROTATED, THEN E-F ROTATED, THEN G-H ROTATED]

A. George W. Bush

Favor-able

Unfavor-able

No opinion

Favor-able

Unfavor-able

No opinion

2005

%

%

%

2001

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

54

45

1

2001 Apr 20-22

65

32

3

 

 

 

2001 Mar 9-11

63

32

5

2005 Feb 25-27

56

42

2

2001 Mar 5-7

69

28

3

2005 Feb 4-6

59

39

2

2001 Feb 19-21

67

27

6

2004

 

 

 

2001 Feb 1-4

64

33

3

2004 Nov 19-21

60

39

1

2001 Jan 15-16

62

36

2

2004 Oct 29-31

51

46

3

2000

 

 

 

2004 Oct 22-24 ^

53

44

3

2000 Dec 15-17

59

36

5

2004 Oct 14-16

55

44

1

2000 Dec 2-4

56

40

4

2004 Oct 9-10

51

46

3

2000 Nov 13-15

53

43

4

2004 Oct 1-3

53

45

2

2000 Nov 13-15 †

54

43

3

2004 Sep 13-15 ^

55

44

1

2000 Nov 4-5 †

55

39

6

2004 Sep 3-5

55

44

1

2000 Oct 24-26 †

62

33

5

2004 Aug 23-25

54

44

2

2000 Oct 23-25 †

60

35

5

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

52

46

2

2000 Oct 20-22 †

59

37

4

2004 Jul 19-21

52

46

2

2000 Oct 5-7 †

58

36

6

2004 Jul 8-11

52

46

2

2000 Sep 28-30 †

55

38

7

2004 Jun 21-23

53

45

2

2000 Sep 15-17 †

51

41

8

2004 Apr 16-18

56

42

2

2000 Aug 18-19

60

34

6

2004 Mar 26-28

57

41

2

2000 Aug 4-5

67

28

5

2004 Feb 16-17

56

42

2

2000 Jul 25-26

63

31

6

2004 Jan 29-Feb 1

52

47

1

2000 Jul 14-16

64

29

7

2004 Jan 2-5

65

35

*

2000 Jun 23-25

60

31

9

2003

 

 

 

2000 Jun 6-7

64

29

7

2003 Oct 6-8

60

39

1

2000 Apr 28-30

61

33

6

2003 Jun 27-29 ^

65

34

1

2000 Mar 10-12

63

32

5

2003 Jun 9-10

66

33

1

2000 Feb 25-27

57

35

8

2003 Jan 31-Feb 2

68

32

*

2000 Feb 20-21

58

35

7

2002

 

 

 

2000 Feb 4-6

63

31

6

2002 Dec 16-17

68

30

2

2000 Jan 17-19

66

26

8

2002 Sep 23-26

70

28

2

1999

 

 

 

2002 Jul 26-28

71

26

3

1999 Dec 9-12

68

25

7

2002 May 20-22

80

18

2

1999 Oct 21-24

71

21

8

2002 Apr 29-May 1

79

19

2

1999 Oct 8-10

70

25

5

2002 Jan 11-14

83

15

2

1999 Sep 23-26

71

22

7

2001

 

 

 

1999 Aug 16-18

68

21

11

2001 Nov 26-27

87

11

2

1999 Jun 25-27

69

16

15

2001 Aug 3-5

60

35

5

1999 Apr 13-14

73

15

12

2001 Jun 8-10

62

36

2

1999 Feb 19-21

69

12

19

^ Asked of a half sample

† Based on registered voters

B. House Republican Leader, Tom DeLay

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

27

31

26

16

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 4-6

29

24

24

23

2003 Jul 25-27

33

19

34

14

1999 Sep 10-14 ^

17

11

54

18

^ WORDING: House Republican Whip, Tom DeLay

C. Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

26

24

31

19

 

 

 

 

2003 Jan 3-5

36

11

30

23

D. Florida Governor, Jeb Bush

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

44%

38

5

13

E. The Republican Party

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

50

44

1

5

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 25-27

51

42

1

6

2005 Feb 4-6

56

39

1

4

2004 Sep 13-15

55

41

*

4

2004 Sep 3-5

53

40

*

7

2004 Aug 23-25 ^

50

41

1

8

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

47

45

1

7

2004 Jul 19-21 ^

50

43

*

7

2004 Jan 29-Feb 1

48

45

*

7

2004 Jan 2-5

52

40

1

7

2003 Sep 8-10

50

44

--

6

2003 Mar 29-30

56

33

1

10

2003 Jan 3-5

51

38

1

10

2002 Dec 16-17

51

38

1

10

2002 Nov 8-10

54

38

*

8

2002 Oct 21-22

53

35

*

12

2002 Sep 5-8

54

40

0

6

2002 Jul 26-28

55

36

*

9

2002 Jan 11-14

61

30

*

9

2001 Sep 7-10

47

48

*

5

2000 Nov 13-15

49

43

*

8

2000 Aug 4-5

54

37

1

8

2000 Jul 25-26

49

39

*

12

2000 Jan 7-10

53

41

*

6

1999 Nov 18-21

50

44

*

6

1999 Apr 30-May 2

47

44

*

9

1999 Feb 19-21

45

46

0

9

1999 Feb 12-13

40

54

1

5

1999 Feb 4-8

45

47

*

8

1999 Jan 8-10

40

52

*

8

1998 Dec 19-20

31

57

*

12

1998 Dec 15-16

43

47

2

8

1997 Oct 27-29

50

42

*

8

1996 Aug 30-Sep 1 †

50

45

*

5

1996 Aug 16-18 †

55

41

1

2

1996 Aug 5-7 †

51

44

*

5

1996 Apr 9-10

52

41

*

7

1995 Apr 17-19

52

42

*

6

1992 Jul 6-8 †

53

39

*

8

^ Asked of a half sample

† Based on registered voters

F. The Democratic Party

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

50

42

*

8

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 25-27

52

41

1

6

2005 Feb 4-6

46

47

*

7

2004 Sep 13-15

49

45

--

6

2004 Sep 3-5

50

41

*

9

2004 Aug 23-25 ^

54

36

1

9

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

55

37

1

7

2004 Jul 19-21 ^

48

41

1

10

2004 Jan 29-Feb 1

59

34

*

7

2004 Jan 2-5

47

44

*

9

2003 Sep 8-10

49

45

--

6

2003 Mar 29-30

49

39

1

11

2003 Jan 3-5

52

36

1

11

2002 Dec 16-17

52

37

1

10

2002 Nov 8-10

48

42

0

10

2002 Oct 21-22

58

30

*

12

2002 Sep 5-8

56

38

0

6

2002 Jul 26-28

55

34

*

11

2002 Jan 11-14

55

33

*

12

2001 Sep 7-10

56

38

*

6

2000 Nov 13-15

53

38

1

8

2000 Aug 4-5

53

38

1

8

2000 Jul 25-26

56

35

*

9

2000 Jan 7-10

61

33

*

6

1999 Nov 18-21

51

41

*

8

1999 Apr 30-May 2

53

37

1

9

1999 Feb 19-21

55

37

0

8

1999 Feb 12-13

56

38

*

6

1999 Feb 4-8

57

37

*

6

1999 Jan 8-10

57

35

*

8

1998 Dec 19-20

57

30

*

13

1998 Dec 15-16

58

32

2

8

1997 Oct 27-29

54

39

*

7

1996 Aug 30-Sep 1 †

60

36

*

4

1996 Aug 16-18 †

55

41

1

3

1996 Aug 5-7 †

57

38

1

4

1996 Apr 9-10

55

38

0

7

1995 Apr 17-19

51

43

*

6

1992 Jul 6-8 †

54

38

*

8

^ Asked of a half sample

† Based on registered voters

 

G. Michael Schiavo, husband of Terri Schiavo

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

45%

42

3

10

           

H. Mary and Bob Schindler, parents of Terri Schiavo

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

53%

33

3

11

5. How important is it to you that the president and Congress deal with each of the following issues in the next year -- is it -- extremely important, very important, moderately important, or not that important? How about -- [ITEMS A-F ROTATED]?

2005 Apr 1-2
(sorted by "extremely important")

Extremely
important

Extremely/Very important

%

%

Terrorism

47

88

Healthcare costs

46

88

Gas prices

44

79

The economy

41

87

Social Security

37

79

Changes to how the federal courts handle moral issues

20

47

A. Terrorism

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

47

41

10

2

*

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 4-6

54

35

10

1

*

2004 Dec 17-19 ^

49

38

10

3

*

2003 Jan 3-5 ^

59

31

8

2

0

2002 May 28-29 ^

53

35

9

2

1

2002 Jan 11-14

62

31

5

1

1

2001 Oct 5-6

70

25

4

1

*

^ Asked of a half sample

B. The economy

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

41

46

11

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 4-6

44

44

11

1

*

2004 Dec 17-19

40

46

13

1

*

2003 Jan 3-5

49

42

8

1

*

2002 May 28-29 ^

38

45

14

2

1

2002 Jan 11-14

44

43

11

1

1

2001 Oct 5-6

54

36

10

*

*

2001 Jan 10-14

34

51

12

2

1

^ Asked of a half sample

C. Social Security

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

37

42

15

5

1

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 4-6

41

38

15

5

1

2004 Dec 17-19 ^

40

42

14

4

*

2003 Jan 3-5 ^

41

36

20

3

*

2002 May 28-29 ^

41

39

16

3

1

^ Asked of a half sample

D. Gas prices

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

44%

35

17

4

*

E. Healthcare costs

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2

46

42

9

2

1

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Feb 4-6

49

39

11

1

*

2004 Dec 17-19 ^

42

45

12

1

*

2003 Jan 3-5 ^

45

36

17

1

1

^ Asked of a half sample

F. Changes to how the federal courts handle moral issues

Extremely important

Very important

Moderately important

Not that important

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

20%

27

29

21

3

7. When it comes to moral values, do you think -- [ROTATED: The Republican Party/the Democratic Party] -- is trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans, or not?

A. The Republican Party

Yes, is

No, is not

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

55%

40

5

B. The Democratic Party

Yes, is

No, is not

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

40%

53

7

9. Just your best guess, in general, how many federal judges do you think allow their political views to inappropriately influence their decisions on cases -- all of them, most of them, about half, only a few of them, or none?


All


Most

About half

Only
a few


None

No opinion

 

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

7%

28

33

27

2

3

10. Do you think the religious right has too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence in the Bush administration?

BASED ON 519 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A


Too
much


Too
little


Right amount

No
influence (VOL.)


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

39%

18

39

1

3

Trends for Comparison: CBS News/New York Times polls


Too
much


Too
little


Right amount

No
influence (VOL.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

 

2003 May 9-12

21

22

40

5

12

2003 Jan 19-22

21

21

44

3

11

2002 Nov 20-24

22

20

39

2

17

2001 Mar 8-12

22

19

31

2

27

11. Do you think the religious right has too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence over the Republicans in Congress?

BASED ON 521 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B


Too
much


Too
little


Right amount

No
influence (vol.)


No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

39%

23

33

*

5

19. Turning now to Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, and whose parents and husband disagreed over whether she should be kept alive. As you may know, the feeding tube that was keeping Terri Schiavo alive was removed on March 18th, and she died this past Thursday. Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?

BASED ON 519 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

           

Should have

Should not have

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Apr 1-2 ^

53

41

6

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20 †

56

31

13

^ Asked of a half sample

† WORDING: As you may know, on Friday (March 18) the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive was removed. Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?

20. Turning now to the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed on March 18and who died this past Thursday. Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?

BASED ON 521 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

           

Should have

Should not have

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

52%

42

6

21. Do you approve or disapprove of Congress's involvement in the Terri Schiavo case?

           

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

20%

76

4

22. Do you think Congress should -- completely overhaul, make major changes, make minor changes, or make no changes at all -- to the way state and federal courts handle FUTURE cases like the one involving Terri Schiavo?

Completely overhaul

Major changes

Minor changes

No changes at all

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Apr 1-2

11%

26

24

36

3

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