Poll: GOP risks loss of respect if it goes after Sotomayor

McClatchy NewspapersJune 12, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Republicans may have a window of opportunity to turn public opinion against President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, but a new poll finds that such a campaign could hurt their party's already weak standing with Americans, especially Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing voter group.

Fully 55 percent of Americans said they hadn't yet heard enough about Sonia Sotomayor to have an opinion of her, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll. That could be the opportunity that Republicans can exploit by attacking her. Even so, 54 percent said the Senate should confirm her, while only 21 percent said it should not, and one in four Americans isn't yet sure.

However, the poll revealed a danger for Republicans: 37 percent of the general population and 42 percent of Hispanics said they'd feel less favorably toward the Republican Party if Senate Republicans "overwhelmingly oppose" Sotomayor, 54, a Latina federal appellate judge from New York.

A much smaller number — 24 percent of the general population and 20 percent of Hispanics — said that organized GOP opposition would endear Republicans to them.

Obama, a Democrat whose party controls Congress, nominated Sotomayor on May 26. The survey of 1,000 general-population adults was conducted June 4-8 and had an error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The poll of 505 Hispanic adults was taken May 28-June 8 and had an error margin of plus or minus 4.36 percentage points.

Some Republicans are weighing whether to mount a filibuster to block Sotomayor's Senate confirmation, and many of them want to delay her confirmation hearings, which are set to start on July 13.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and five other senators wrote a letter Wednesday seeking more time to vet her, and additional documents related to her past speeches, club memberships, law school record and work as a judge.

Several Republicans have objected to a recurring line of Sotomayor's in speeches in which she contends that a "wise Latina" would reach better decisions than others from less diverse backgrounds, such as white men. But Republicans toned down their criticism after initial comments from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others charged that Sotomayor was racist. Gingrich later retracted the comment.

The juxtaposition of Americans' uncertainty about Sotomayor and their aversion to a GOP opposition campaign suggests that the public either generally supports giving the president his choice for the court or views a campaign to block his nominee through the broader lens of their frustration with Congress.

A separate McClatchy-Ipsos poll of 1,023 adults conducted June 4-8 found that 52 percent of Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, while 64 percent approve of Obama's performance.

Fifty-two percent said the country is heading in the right direction, but just 9 percent think the economy has turned the corner on its crisis. Forty-eight percent said the economic situation has stabilized but isn't yet improving. Another 37 percent predicted that things will get worse.

Poll Methodology:

General Population: These are some of the findings of a McClatchy/Ipsos poll conducted June 4-8, 2009. For the survey, a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of exactly 1,000 adults aged 18 and older across the United States was interviewed by Ipsos. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled.

Hispanics: These are some of the findings of a McClatchy/Ipsos poll conducted May 28-June 8 with a nationally representative sample of 505 Hispanics aged 18 and older, interviewed by telephone via Ipsos' U.S. Hispanic Omnibus. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 4.36 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population of Hispanics in the U.S. been polled.

All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.

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