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Conservatives say ABC News poll on filibuster was biased

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll on the judicial filibuster is drawing criticism from social conservatives, who say the poll used biased questions and who note that other polls have found different results.

The ABC News/Washington Post was released April 26 and was touted as showing by a 2-to-1 margin Americans opposing Republican efforts to change the rules and prevent the filibustering of judicial nominees. The Post even ran a story about the poll with a headline stating: “Filibuster Rule Change Opposed.”

Specifically, the poll asked, “Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees?” Only 26 percent of Americans said they supported a rule change, while 66 percent said they opposed it.

Meanwhile, a Rasmussen Reports poll found just the opposite — 56 percent of Americans supporting the rule change, 26 percent opposing it.

What gives?

Apparently, the polls’ wording accounts for the drastic swing. Conservatives note that the ABC News/Washington Post poll failed to include the word “filibuster” — which can draw a negative reaction from some people. Also, conservatives say, the poll did not include Republicans’ main argument — that it is the first time in Senate history nominees with majority support have been blocked from receiving an up-for-down vote.

“All that the poll showed was which side the two media giants are on,” Tony Perkins, president of the pro-family Family Research Council, said in his daily e-mail April 27. “Not once in the poll do the questions explain that what the Democrats are doing is both unprecedented and borderline unconstitutional. The questions dealing with the unprecedented filibuster do not even mention the word ‘filibuster,’ leaving uninformed participants at a loss to what exactly the Democrats are doing.”

The ABC News/Washington Post poll included a second question about the judicial nominees, but it also failed to use the word “filibuster.” The question was phrased as follows: “The Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others. Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block these nominations?” Forty-eight percent of adults said Democrats are right, while 36 percent said they are wrong.

The Rasmussen poll, released April 22, also didn’t mention the word “filibuster,” but nevertheless got a different result. It asked two questions on judicial filibusters, the first being, “Should every presidential nominee receive an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate?” Forty-five percent said “yes” and 21 percent said “no.” Secondly, Rasmussen asked, “Should Senate rules be changed to give every nominee a vote?” A majority, 56 percent, supported a rule change, while 26 percent opposed it.

FOX News reported that an internal Republican poll found even greater support for the rule change if people are asked if they agree with the following statement: “Even if they disagree with a judge, Senate Democrats should at least allow the president’s nominations to be voted on.” Eighty-one percent agreed with the statement, FOX News reported.

Democrats have used the filibuster to block 10 of President Bush’s most conservative nominees to the appeals court level — that is, roughly one-fifth of his nominees to the appellate court. While the nominees had the votes for confirmation, they did not have the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster. It is the first time in Senate history that judicial nominees with majority support have been prevented from receiving an up-or-down vote, Republicans say.

In a New York Times column April 27, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole asserted that Bush “has the lowest appellate-court confirmation rate of any modern president.”

“When I was a leader in the Senate, a judicial filibuster was not part of my procedural playbook,” Dole wrote. “Asking a senator to filibuster a judicial nomination was considered an abrogation of some 200 years of Senate tradition. To be fair, the Democrats have previously refrained from resorting to the filibuster even when confronted with controversial judicial nominees like Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

“Although these men were treated poorly, they were at least given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. At the time, filibustering their nominations was not considered a legitimate option by my Democratic colleagues — if it had been, Justice Thomas might not be on the Supreme Court today, since his nomination was approved with only 52 votes, eight short of the 60 votes needed to close debate.

“That’s why the current obstruction effort of the Democratic leadership is so extraordinary.”

Republican leaders are considering a rule change that would prevent the filibuster from being used on judicial nominees, although it still would be allowed on other matters, such as legislation. The rule change would require only a simple majority of 51 votes. Dole said that while he hopes a compromise can be reached, Majority Leader Bill First “will be fully justified” to change the rules.

Democrats say the 10 nominees are out of the judicial mainstream. Former Vice President Al Gore told a MoveOn.org gathering April 27 that the Republican Party is seeking to “fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image.” He criticized the Republicans’ use of religion in the current debate.

“This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place,” Gore said.

Abortion rights groups have led the opposition to Bush’s nominees, with two groups — Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America — among the most vocal. In addition, homosexual activist groups are opposing the rule change. The homosexual group Lambda Legal released a statement April 26 calling one of the nominees, William Pryor, the “most demonstrably antigay judicial nominee in recent history.”

The outcome of the rule change debate could have significant implications on such issues as abortion and “same-sex marriage.” Religious conservatives hope that if the nominees are confirmed, decades of social liberal rulings can be reversed.

Other polls have been released on the issue. Among them:

— An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 50 percent of Americans favoring maintaining the judicial filibuster, 40 percent opposed. Its question stated: “As you may know, in the last term of Congress some senators used a procedure called a filibuster when it came to some of President Bush’s judicial nominees. When this happens, it takes the votes of 60 senators instead of 51 to end debate and hold a confirmation vote for a nominee. In your opinion, should the Senate maintain the filibuster rule or eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations?”

The poll did not ask interviewees about a possible rule change.

— Strategic Vision found that a majority of Floridians, 57 percent, disapprove of judicial filibusters. Twenty-eight percent in the battleground state favor them. The poll asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominations in the United States Senate?”

In the poll a plurality of Floridians, 44 percent, favor the rule change. Thirty-three percent are opposed. That question asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of a Republican plan in the United States Senate to limit Democratic filibustering of judicial nominations and allow a vote on the nominations?”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust