U.S. Support for Garland Average for Supreme Court Nominees

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • 52% favor, 29% oppose Senate confirmation of Garland
  • Opponents believe next president should make nomination
  • Republican opposition to Garland no greater than for prior Obama nominees

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans are more likely to favor (52%) than oppose (29%) Senate confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, according to Gallup's first reading on public support for his nomination. That level of support essentially matches the average 51% in initial readings for the eight nominees Gallup has tested since 1991.

Support for Confirmation of Merrick Garland and Other Recent Supreme Court Nominees
As you may know, Merrick Garland is a federal judge who has been nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. Would you like to see the Senate vote in favor of Garland serving on the Supreme Court, or not?
Poll dates Vote in favor% Not vote in favor% No opin.%
Merrick Garland Mar 18-19, 2016 52 29 19
Elena Kagan May 24-25, 2010 46 32 22
Sonia Sotomayor May 29-31, 2009 54 28 19
Samuel Alito Nov 7-10, 2005 50 25 25
Harriet Miers Oct 13-16, 2005 44 36 20
John Roberts Jul 22-24, 2005 59 22 19
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Jun 18-21, 1993 53 14 33
Clarence Thomas Jul 11-14, 1991 52 17 31
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made.

As with all recent nominees, a significant proportion of Americans, 19%, do not have an opinion on Garland's confirmation.

The results are based on a Gallup poll conducted March 18-19, days after President Barack Obama nominated Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia's passing during a presidential election year ignited a political battle over whether a president in his last year in office should fill the vacancy or if the process should be delayed until after a new president is in office.

Americans' Views on Whether the Senate Should Confirm Garland

Amid the political storm, initial public support for Garland's confirmation is similar to what it has been for other Supreme Court nominees. It exceeds that for 2010 Obama nominee Elena Kagan (46%) and 2005 George W. Bush nominee Harriet Miers (44%). Miers requested that Bush withdraw her nomination as opposition to her confirmation grew among elected officials from both parties and the general public. Just before her withdrawal, 42% Americans favored and 43% opposed Senate confirmation of her.

Only John Roberts, at 59%, had significantly higher initial support than Garland among recent high court nominees.

Gallup also measured support for Ronald Reagan's 1987 appointee Robert Bork. That initial reading found 31% in favor of Senate confirmation, 25% opposed and a higher 44% not having an opinion. If Bork's data are included, the average level of support for prior nominees drops to 49%. Further Gallup polling on the Bork nomination in September 1987 found a significant increase in Americans' opposition to Bork's confirmation, with Americans ending up about evenly divided as to whether the Senate should (38%) or should not (35%) confirm him. The Senate eventually voted against confirming Bork.

Gallup did not measure support for 1994 Bill Clinton nominee Stephen Breyer, 1990 George H. W. Bush nominee David Souter, or 1987 Reagan nominees Douglas Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy.

Garland Opponents Believe Next President Should Choose Nominee

Given a choice, Americans who believe the Senate should not confirm Garland largely say their opposition stems from their belief that the next president should fill the vacancy (67%), rather than specific concerns they have about Garland himself (20%).

That finding is not surprising because Americans have limited familiarity with Garland at this point, with a majority saying they have heard or read "very little" (31%) or "nothing at all" (28%) about the judge's qualifications and record. Only 7% say they have heard "a great deal," with another 34% saying they have heard "a fair amount."

Slim Majority of Republicans Oppose Garland Confirmation

Since little is known specifically about Garland, support or opposition to his nomination at this point may mostly reflect Americans' partisanship and, by extension, their views of Obama. Consistent with this, 76% of Democrats say they favor Senate confirmation of Garland to the Supreme Court. Republicans are more likely to oppose (51%) than support (33%) Garland's confirmation, but Republican opposition is not nearly as widespread as Democratic support. Independents tilt in favor of Senate confirmation.

Support for Confirmation of Merrick Garland to Supreme Court, by Political Party
Vote in favor% Not vote in favor% No opinion%
Democrats 76 11 14
Independents 44 31 25
Republicans 33 51 16
Gallup, March 18-19, 2016

Despite the controversy over the election-year nomination, the 51% of Republicans initially opposing Garland's confirmation is no higher than initial Republican opposition to Obama's prior Supreme Court nominees -- Kagan (51%) and Sonia Sotomayor (57%). And more Republicans say they want the Senate to vote to confirm Garland (33%) than said this about either Kagan (26%) or Sotomayor (24%).

Initial Support for Confirmation of President Barack Obama's Nominees to Supreme Court, by Political Party
Vote in favor% Not vote in favor% No opinion%
Garland 33 51 16
Kagan 26 51 22
Sotomayor 24 57 20
Garland 76 11 14
Kagan 68 12 20
Sotomayor 76 6 17
Garland 44 31 25
Kagan 43 33 25
Sotomayor 54 27 19
Note: Data are based on first Gallup survey conducted after nomination was made.

Democratic support for Garland is higher than it was for Kagan and similar to what it was for Sotomayor. Independents were much more positive about the Sotomayor nomination than the Kagan and Garland nominations.


The passing of Scalia has made the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court more salient in an already intense political year. It is understandable that Republicans do not want Obama to appoint Scalia's successor, given that this could tilt the balance of the Supreme Court if he appointed a liberal, or even a moderate, justice to replace the conservative Scalia. However, Obama and the Democrats are arguing that the president and Senate should put politics aside and fulfill their respective constitutional obligations to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Although the political context surrounding Garland's nomination is different from the context for any other recent Supreme Court nominee, the public's reaction is similar to what it has been for past nominees. A slight majority favors confirmation, and nearly twice as many support as oppose it when factoring out those without an opinion.

Obama chose a nominee that many regard as a moderate judge, and one several current Senate Republicans voted to confirm to his current federal judgeship. Obama may hope that the public can persuade reluctant Republicans to relent and vote to confirm his choice, and some GOP senators facing tough re-election battles may feel pressure to do so. Public opinion on Garland's confirmation is largely divided along partisan lines, but not any more so than it has been for other Obama nominees.

Importantly, with the exceptions of Bork and Miers, there has been little change in Americans' fundamental support for the confirmation of past high court nominees between Gallup's initial readings and subsequent measurements leading up to their confirmation hearings. As such, unless forthcoming reviews of Garland's qualifications and past judicial rulings raise serious concerns, the public is likely to continue to back his confirmation.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 18-19, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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