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Should Scalia’s Replacement Be Obama’s Choice?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has set off a political battle over who should get to nominate his replacement, but voters tend to think the choice should be President Obama's, not the next president's.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters believe Obama should put off naming a replacement for Scalia and leave that to his successor in the White House. But just over half (51%) disagree and say the president should not pass this decision on. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

If the president does nominate someone, 53% say the Republican-led Senate should not reject or refuse to consider the nomination. Thirty-five percent (35%) think the Senate should block any Obama nominee in order to allow the next president to choose Scalia's replacement. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

However, just 27% of voters believe it’s even somewhat likely that the Senate will approve the nomination of any candidate Obama nominates to replace Scalia. That includes just six percent (6%) who say it’s Very Likely. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say it’s unlikely the Senate will approve an Obama nominee, including 25% who say it’s Not At All Likely.

Predictably, there are sharp differences of opinion across partisan lines. Most Republican voters (69%) think the president should hand the nomination decision off to the next president, while most Democrats (76%) and voters not affiliated with either party by a 50% to 40% margin disagree. Most GOP voters (55%) support the Senate rejecting or refusing to consider an Obama nomination, but majorities of Democrats and unaffiliateds oppose such action.

The one thing voters in all three camps agree on is that the Senate is unlikely to approve any candidate the president nominates.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 15-16, 2016 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Before Scalia’s death, 38% of voters believed the Supreme Court is too politically liberal. Just 23% said the high court is too conservative, while 30% considered the Supreme Court’s ideology to be about right.  We’ll release new findings on the high court’s ideology later this week.

Most voters think the next occupant of the White House is likely to be a Republican.

Those 40 and over are more likely than younger voters to think the president should hold off making a nomination and are twice as likely to support the Senate rejecting his nomination. But voters under 40 are slightly more optimistic that the Senate will confirm Obama's nominee.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of self-described politically conservative voters think the Senate should block any nomination Obama makes to replace Scalia. Sixty-three percent (63%) of moderates and 83% of liberal voters disagree.

But most voters, regardless of their views of Obama's job performance, consider it unlikely that the Senate will confirm his nominee for the high court.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton seemed receptive recently to naming President Obama to the Supreme Court if she is elected to succeed him this fall. Most voters disapprove of putting the president on the high court.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters think Obama has been less faithful to the U.S. Constitution than his predecessors in the Oval Office. Nineteen percent (19%) say Obama has been more faithful to the Constitution than previous presidents when taking executive actions, while 26% say he has been about as faithful.

Most voters have made it clear that they want the federal government only to do what Congress and the president agree on, but they blame the GOP-led Congress more than Obama for the legislative gridlock in Washington, D.C.

Voters including members of their own party aren’t pleased with the Republicans’ control of both chambers of Congress this past year.  Meanwhile, Obama's daily job approval ratings remain in the negative teens.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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To learn more about our methodology, click here.