Public Reaction to Miers Lukewarm

by David W. Moore

Nomination triggers mostly partisan responses

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- If Harriet Miers is an unknown to most members of Congress, then she must be even more obscure to the general public. Yet, most people are willing, even at this early stage, to express an opinion -- although an opinion highly conditioned by their partisan orientation.

Overall, 44% of Americans rate President George W. Bush's choice of Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court as "excellent" or "good," while 41% rate the choice as "only fair" or "poor."

Generally speaking, how would you rate Bush's choice of [name of nominee] as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Excellent

Good

Only
fair

Poor

No
opinion

Harriet Miers (2005 Oct 3-4)

11%

33

25

16

15

John Roberts (2005 Jul 20)

25%

26

20

14

15

This is a somewhat lower rating than what Chief Justice John Roberts received when he was nominated to the Supreme Court in July. Fifty-one percent gave him a high rating, 34% a low rating.

Not unexpectedly, Miers' rating is highly related to people's partisan orientation. Overwhelmingly, Republicans give her a high rating (72% excellent or good, just 16% fair or poor), while Democrats give her a low rating (24% excellent or good, 62% fair or poor). Independents are evenly divided: 41% give her a high rating and 41% a low rating.

Generally speaking, how would you rate Bush's choice of Harriet Miers as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Harriet Miers

Excellent/
Good

Only fair/
Poor

No
opinion

%

%

%

Overall

44

41

15

Republicans

72

16

12

Independents

41

41

18

Democrats

24

62

14

Similarly, more people had positive first impressions of Roberts than of Miers. Forty-two percent say their "first impressions" of Miers are positive, compared with 54% who felt positively about Roberts.

How would you describe your first impressions of [name of candidate]? Would you say they are -- [ROTATED: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, (or) very negative]?

Very
positive

Somewhat
positive

Neither

Somewhat
negative

Very
negative

No
opinion

Miers (2005 Oct 3-4)

14%

28

34

10

4

10

Roberts (2005 Jul 20)

26%

28

21

8

7

10

Again, these views are highly related to partisan orientation. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans have positive first impressions of Miers, compared with 40% of independents and just 26% of Democrats.

How would you describe your first impressions of Harriet Miers? Would you say they are -- [ROTATED: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, (or) very negative]?

Harriet Miers

Positive

Neither

Negative

No opinion

%

%

%

%

Overall

42

34

14

10

Republicans

67

21

7

5

Independents

40

36

13

11

Democrats

26

42

22

10

Conservatives Less Supportive of Miers Than of Roberts

The poll shows that the lower ratings received by Miers than Roberts are due principally to the opinions of conservatives. While moderates and liberals are about as likely to rate Miers as an "excellent" or "good" choice as they are to rate Roberts that way, conservatives are considerably less likely to give Miers the high rating.

Percentage Rating Each Candidate as an "Excellent" or "Good" Choice

Roberts

Miers

Difference

%

%

Pct. pts.

Conservatives

77

58

-19

Moderates

46

43

- 3

Liberals

17

23

+ 6

Similarly, when asked their first impressions of the two candidates, conservatives are much less likely to say their first impressions of Miers are positive (57%) than they were to say they had positive impressions of Roberts (77%). Moderates are also less positive about Miers, but the difference between their views of Roberts and Miers is just 14 points, compared with the 20-point difference among conservatives. Liberals are about as positive about Miers (26%) as they were about Roberts (23%).

Percentage Saying They Have "Positive" First Impressions
of Each Candidate

Roberts

Miers

Difference

%

%

Pct. pts.

Conservatives

77

57

-20

Moderates

53

39

-14

Liberals

23

26

+ 3

Miers' Gender of Little Impact on Public Support

One of the defining characteristics of Miers' nomination is that so few people know much about her legal views. Having never served as a judge, and having been Bush's legal confidante for most of the past decade, Miers has left virtually no "paper trail" of opinions for observers to study. The public views this lack of a legal record as much more negative than positive.

Thinking about Harriet Miers' background, does each of the following make you -- [ROTATED: more likely to support her nomination, does it make no difference to you, or does it make you less likely to support her nomination]? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2005 Oct 3-4
(sorted by "more likely")

More
likely

No
difference

Less
likely

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

She is a woman

29

66

5

*

She has close personal ties to George W. Bush

16

38

44

2

Her views on most major issues are not known

12

33

49

6

She has never served as a judge

10

42

46

2

* Less than 0.5%

Most people, 66%, are neither positive nor negative about the fact that Miers is a woman. But 29% say her gender makes them more likely to support her candidacy, while just 5% say it makes them less likely to support her.

A separate question finds that only 18% of Americans would have been upset if Bush had not nominated a woman.

The other three characteristics -- her close personal ties to Bush, the fact that her views on most issues are not known, and the lack of service as a judge -- are all perceived by the public as net negative marks on her candidacy.

  • Women are more likely than men to be impressed with Miers because she is a woman. Nineteen percent of men say her gender makes them more likely to support her, compared with 37% of women who feel that way. Partisan differences are relatively minor.

  • Miers' close personal ties to Bush are much more objectionable to Democrats than to Republicans, with 68% of Democrats saying these ties make them less likely to support her, compared with 47% of independents who feel that way, and just 11% of Republicans.

  • Miers' lack of a public record also bothers Democrats more than it does Republicans -- 63% of Democrats say this factor makes them less likely to support her, while 46% of independents and 36% of Republicans agree.

  • Some of Miers' supporters are touting her lack of experience as a judge in positive terms, saying it would give the court more breadth of experience. Most Americans, however, do not accept that point of view. Her lack of judicial experience causes 58% of Democrats to be less supportive of her candidacy, compared with 45% of independents and 32% of Republicans.

Similar to what people expressed about the Roberts candidacy this year, and the Clarence Thomas candidacy in 1991, a majority of Americans, 55%, believe that senators should insist that Miers explain her views on abortion during the hearings on her nomination, while 42% disagree.

When the U.S. Senate holds hearings on the [name of nominee] nomination, do you think senators should insist that he/she explain his/her views on abortion before confirming him/her, or should he/she be allowed to refuse to answer questions about abortion?

Insist he/she
explain
his/her views

Allowed to
refuse to answer

No
opinion

%

%

%

Harriet Miers (2005 Oct 3-4)

55

42

3

John Roberts (2005 Jul 22-24)

61

37

2

Clarence Thomas (1991 Jul 11-14)

54

39

7

Again, these views are highly related to partisan orientation: 68% of Democrats believe Miers should be required to state her views on abortion, compared with 57% of independents, and just 39% of Republicans.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 803 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 3-4, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.

As you may know, President Bush has nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

1. Generally speaking, how would you rate Bush's choice of Harriet Miers as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Excellent

Good

Only
fair

Poor

No
opinion

2005 Oct 3-4

11%

33

25

16

15

Trends for Comparison:

John Roberts: Generally speaking, how would you rate Bush's choice of John Roberts as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Excellent

Good

Only
fair

Poor

No
opinion

2005 Jul 20

25%

26

20

14

15

Next, thinking about Harriet Miers herself,

2. How would you describe your first impressions of her? Would you say they are -- [ROTATED: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, (or) very negative]?

Very
positive

Some-
what
positive

Neither

Some-
what
negative

Very
negative

No
opinion

2005 Oct 3-4

14%

28

34

10

4

10

Trends for Comparison:

John Roberts: How would you describe your first impressions of him? Would you say they are -- [ROTATED: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, (or) very negative]?


Very
positive

Some-
what
positive



Neither

Some-
what
negative


Very
negative


No
opinion

2005 Jul 20

26%

28

21

8

7

10

As you may know, the Senate will soon hold hearings and vote on whether to confirm Bush's appointment of Miers to the Supreme Court.

3. How much does it matter to you whether or not Harriet Miers is confirmed by the Senate -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all?

Great
deal

Moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

2005 Oct 3-4

32%

33

22

10

3

Trends for Comparison:

John Roberts: How much does it matter to you whether or not John Roberts is confirmed by the Senate -- a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all?

Great
deal

Moderate
amount

Not
much

Not
at all

No
opinion

2005 Jul 20

37%

29

18

13

3

4. Thinking about Harriet Miers' background, does each of the following make you -- [ROTATED: more likely to support her nomination, does it make no difference to you, or does it make you less likely to support her nomination]? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2005 Oct 3-4
(sorted by "more likely")

More
likely

No
difference

Less
likely

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

She is a woman

29

66

5

*

She has close personal ties to George W. Bush

16

38

44

2

Her views on most major issues are not known

12

33

49

6

She has never served as a judge

10

42

46

2

* Less than 0.5%

5. Just your best guess, how important do you think each of the following considerations was to George W. Bush when he chose Harriet Miers as the nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court -- very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2005 Oct 3-4
(sorted by "very important")

Very
important

Some-
what
impor-
tant

Not too
important

Not
impor-
tant
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

She has close personal ties to him

51

23

14

10

2

She is a woman

31

25

17

24

3

Her views on most major issues are not known

28

26

23

16

7

She has never served as a judge

18

22

26

32

2

6. As you may know, George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. If Bush had NOT nominated a woman, would that have bothered you, or not?

Yes,
would have

No,
would not

No
opinion

2005 Oct 3-4

18%

82

*

* Less than 0.5%

7. When the U.S. Senate holds hearings on the Harriet Miers nomination, do you think senators should insist that she explain her views on abortion before confirming her, or should she be allowed to refuse to answer questions about abortion?

Insist she
explain
her views

Allowed
to refuse
to answer

No
opinion

2005 Oct 3-4

55%

42

3

Trends for Comparison:

John Roberts: When the U.S. Senate holds hearings on the John Roberts nomination, do you think senators should insist that he explain his views on abortion before confirming him, or should he be allowed to refuse to answer questions about abortion?

Insist he
explain
his views

Allowed
to refuse
to answer

No
opinion

2005 Jul 22-24

61%

37

2

Clarence Thomas: When the U.S. Senate holds hearings on the Clarence Thomas nomination, do you think senators should insist that he explain his views on abortion before confirming him, or should he be allowed to refuse to answer questions about abortion?

Insist he
explain
his views

Allowed
to refuse
to answer

No
opinion

1991 Jul 11-14

54%

39

7

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