Summary of Findings

Americans are divided over whether Harriet Miers should be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Based on what they have heard so far, a third say they favor Miers’ confirmation, while 27% are opposed; four-in-ten express no opinion. In mid-September, about two months after John Roberts had been nominated to the court, the public by more than two-to-one favored his confirmation as chief justice of the United States (46%-21%), with a third offering no opinion.

Opposition to Miers is largely partisan, but at this early stage she has not drawn enthusiastic support among conservative Republicans. A narrow majority of conservative Republicans (54%) favor her nomination; in mid-September about three-quarters of Republicans (76%) backed Roberts’ nomination. Support among moderate and liberal Republicans ­ as well as among Democrats ­ is lower for Miers than it was for Roberts.

The public is not greatly concerned about Miers’ ideological impact on the Supreme Court. Most Americans ­ including conservative Republicans ­ say they do not worry that Miers will make the court too conservative or insufficiently conservative. The public has a comparable reaction to the ideological impact of Roberts, who was sworn in as chief justice Sept. 29.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 6-10 among 1,500 Americans, shows that Miers’ lack of judicial experience and her past service as President Bush’s personal attorney are viewed negatively by sizable minorities of Americans. More broadly, about four-in-ten (41%) say that President Bush offers important jobs to his friends more often than other presidents, although 53% say he does so about as often, or less often, than other presidents.

In Miers’ case, 38% say they feel less favorably toward her because she has not served as a judge, while nearly as many (35%) say the same about the fact that she once served as Bush’s personal attorney. By contrast, fewer Americans have a positive reaction to any aspect of Miers’ background tested, although higher percentages say they feel more favorably, rather than less favorably, about the fact that Miers had a long legal career (29% vs. 11%) and is a woman (22% vs. 3%). In addition, a somewhat higher percentage says they feel more favorably to Miers, rather than less favorably, because she is an evangelical Christian (20% vs. 14%).

Majorities of Democrats say they have a less favorable impression of Miers because she once served as Bush’s personal attorney (54%) and because of her lack of judicial experience (53%). Most Republicans say these aspects of Miers’ background do not affect their opinion of the nominee. But a quarter of Republicans say they feel less favorably toward Miers because she has never served as a judge; just 12% of Republicans say that makes them feel more favorably toward her. Miers’ close professional ties to Bush also are not viewed particularly positively by Republicans; about as many say this makes them feel more favorably to Miers as say they feel less favorably (17% vs. 14%).

Tale of Two Nominees

The survey, which went into the field three days after Bush named Miers on Oct. 3, shows a narrow majority of conservative Republicans (54%), and fewer than half of GOP moderates and liberals (43%), believe Miers should be confirmed.

Opposition to Miers among conservative Republicans is not much greater than it was to Roberts in September. But about twice as many conservative Republicans express no opinion of Miers’ nomination than did so regarding the Roberts nomination last month (37% vs. 18%).

Opposition to Miers among Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, is greater than it was toward Roberts. About half of liberal Democrats (52%) say Miers should not be confirmed, compared with 40% who opposed Roberts. Among independents, an identical number oppose Miers as opposed Roberts, although somewhat fewer support Miers’ nomination.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Christians are most supportive of Miers, but about as many evangelicals offer no opinion as say she should be confirmed (43% in favor/41% no opinion). Roughly half of evangelicals (49%) say the fact that Miers is an evangelical Christian makes them feel more favorably to her; that compares with just 20% of the general public. But 44% of white evangelicals say the fact that Miers is an evangelical does not affect their opinion one way or the other.

Ideology Not an Issue

Before Bush made his two court nominations, roughly three-in-ten Americans (31%) worried that his choices would make the court too conservative. But significantly fewer voice the same concern now that Bush has chosen Roberts and Miers. Only one-in-five feel Roberts will make the court too conservative and about the same number expresses that concern about Miers (18%). Even fewer feel that Roberts and Miers will not make the court conservative enough.

Conservative Republicans express no particular concern over Miers’ impact on the court’s ideological balance. Comparable minorities of conservative Republicans say they worry that Miers ­ and Roberts ­ will not make the court conservative enough (14% and 17%, respectively).

Jobs for Friends and Allies

Roughly four-in-ten Americans (41%) have the impression that George W. Bush offers important jobs to friends and political allies more often than other presidents have. About as many (44%) say Bush is no different in this regard, while just 9% say he offers jobs to friends and allies less often than other presidents.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are the most critical of the president on this issue ­ 62% say he gives jobs to his friends more than other presidents. The prevailing view among Republicans is that Bush behaves just as other presidents have.

Answering Senate Questions

Most Americans (55%) say that when senators ask Supreme Court nominees questions about issues like abortion the nominees should be required to answer those questions, while 39% say they should be allowed to not comment. In the current climate, partisanship plays a large role in shaping these views. Two-thirds of Democrats ­ including fully 78% of liberal Democrats ­ say nominees should be required to answer questions of this nature. Most Republicans (54%) take the opposite view.

There is also a sizable generational divide, with younger people much more likely than their elders to say nominees must answer Senate questions. By roughly two-to-one (65% to 31%) people age 18-29 think that nominees should be required to answer questions about issues like abortion. By comparison, people age 65 and older are divided, with nearly half (47%) saying nominees should be allowed to not comment.

Katrina and Gas Prices Dominate News

News about the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast continue to rank among the most closely followed news stories in nearly two decades of the News Interest Index. Nearly three-quarters of the public (73%) say they are following news of the hurricanes’ aftermath very closely. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they are tracking the high price of gasoline very closely.

Public attention to the war in Iraq, which fell during the crisis caused by Hurricane Katrina, has rebounded to levels measured earlier this year. Currently, 43% are paying very close to news from Ira
q, up from 32% a month ago during the crisis in New Orleans.

As has been the case previously, news stories about the Supreme Court register relatively little attention from the public. Nearly three-in-ten Americans (28%) have followed the confirmation of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court very closely.

Only about one-in-five (22%) have been following news about Harriet Miers’ nomination, which is on par historically with other Supreme Court nomination news stories. Interest is about the same among both Republicans and Democrats, and conservatives and liberals.

The criminal indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for campaign finance violations attracted very close attention from nearly one-in-five Americans (18%).