September 12, 2005

Four-in-ten Question Rebuilding New Orleans in Present Location

Roberts Gains Support, But Remains A Mystery To Many

Summary of Findings

With hearings on the nomination of John Roberts beginning today in Washington, a growing number of Americans say that Roberts should be confirmed as chief justice. In polling conducted over the weekend by the Pew Research Center, 46% expressed support for Roberts’s confirmation, up from 35% in a poll conducted last week. Opposition to Roberts was mostly unchanged (21% now, 19% last week). A third of respondents had no opinion, down from 46% last week.

With President Bush facing the task of filling another court vacancy, public opinion continues to tilt in favor of maintaining the court’s ideological balance. About four-in-ten (39%) believe Bush should nominate people who will keep the court about as it is now; 30% favor Bush selecting nominees who will make the court more conservative; and 24% say Bush should choose nominees who will move the court in a more liberal direction. The balance of opinion on this issue has been stable since March.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 1,523 Americans Sept. 8-11, finds about half (48%) saying that the president’s choices of the next Supreme Court justices are very important to them personally; this percentage has remained steady since June. A similar number (46%) said the nomination of a chief justice was personally very important to them.

As expected, there are partisan differences over Roberts’s nomination, though about as many Democrats support his confirmation as oppose it (31% vs. 33%). A relatively high proportion of Democrats and independents (36% each) declined to offer an opinion. About two-thirds of Republicans (68%) believe the Senate should confirm Roberts, but even among Republicans about a quarter (24%) did not express an opinion.

More Disapprove of Local Hurricane Response

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the public has become significantly more critical of the response by state and local governments in Mississippi and Louisiana. Currently, just 34% give state and local governments an excellent or good rating on their handling of the disaster, down from 41% last week. Public evaluations of the federal government’s response to the disaster are largely unchanged from last week ­ 37% positive, 61% negative.

Judgments about the performance of state and local governments are similar among Republicans and Democrats (34% positive for Republicans, 37% for Democrats), unlike views of the federal government’s response which are highly partisan. Similarly, whites and blacks have identical views about the state and local response, but blacks are much more negative than whites about how the federal government has dealt with the hurricane’s impact.

The news media continue to get good evaluations for their coverage of the disaster, with 63% rating the press performance excellent or good ­ about the same as last week. While the hurricane’s aftermath continues to dominate the news, just 23% of those polled said news organizations are giving it too much coverage. Most said the level of coverage was about right (61%); 14% ­ including 29% of African-Americans ­ thought there had been too little coverage.

Despite the outpouring of sympathy and donations to the relief effort in the Gulf Coast region, the public is divided on the question of whether the federal government should help pay for rebuilding New Orleans. Just over half (51%) say it should, but 41% think it is too risky to rebuild the city in its present location. Modest majorities of Democrats (55%) and independents (53%) believe the federal government should help pay for rebuilding New Orleans, while Republicans are divided; 44% think the government should help, while 47% believe it is too risky.

There is a deeper partisan divide over whether the U.S. has sufficient military forces to fight effectively in Iraq and still respond to domestic crises like the hurricane. Seven-in-ten Republicans say the U.S. has enough forces to accomplish both missions; only about half as many Democrats and independents agree (32% and 38%, respectively).