MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough misrepresented a recent public opinion poll, using it as evidence of public support for conservatives' efforts to eliminate the ability of Senate Democrats to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees.
Scarborough claimed that according to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, "it actually looks like about 70 percent of voters want every single judge to get an up-or-down vote" and that "conservatives are on the right side of an issue like this." While responses to one question do indicate that 69 percent of respondents favor up-or-down floor votes on Bush's nominees, those responses also show that only 35 percent support banning judicial filibusters. By contrast, the majority (53 percent) support preserving the filibuster. By negotiating a compromise, senators recently averted the "nuclear option," a legislative maneuver threatened by the Senate Republican leadership that, if successful, would have banned filibusters of judicial nominees.
Moreover, another question from the same poll directly asked respondents to take sides in the filibuster controversy. When asked "whose side do you generally favor" in the filibuster controversy, 48 percent of respondents said they favored Democrats while only 40 percent favored Republicans, contrary to Scarborough's assertion that "conservatives are on the right side" of this issue.
From a panel discussion with Pat Buchanan, an MSNBC political analyst, Lindsey Martin, an attorney for the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, on the May 24 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
MARTIN: Well, Joe, I think Dr. [James C.] Dobson [founder of Focus on the Family] is absolutely right. This is a real defeat here, because we have basically -- the moderate Republicans have kind of steamrolled over the votes -- voters of the 2004 election.
Basically, when the president was nominated by three million votes, we got 55 votes in the Senate. We maintained control of the House on such issues as ending the judicial filibusters, on such issues as abortion and marriage. This basically flies in the face of voters in 2004. And like Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham said, he said, a lot of people back home are going to be upset about this at me for a while.
And that's exactly the truth. But who is he supposed to be representing? He is supposed to be representing the people back home, his constituents. The Republican moderates are way out of line on this. And I think it's --
SMEAL: Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. They are not way out of line. They are way behind the polls on this one.
The reason that the nuclear option was defeated is that people knew it was breaking the Senate rules, and it was trying -- it was an abuse of power.
SMEAL: And they were answering, the moderates were answering to what was being registered in the polls. The public did not like this.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Eleanor, hold on, though.
SMEAL: You call something the nuclear option, you are going to scare the pants off of anyone.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on one second. Let's -- let's look at today's Gallup poll. And it asks this question, right on point.
And the Gallup poll shows that 35 percent of Americans want to change the rules to get up-or-down votes on judges; 34 percent say don't change the rules, but give judges an up-or-down vote; 19 percent want to keep the filibuster to prevent a vote on judges. The poll also found that 17 percent of Americans aren't even paying -- are only paying close attention to this issue.
Eleanor, it actually looks like about 70 percent of voters want every single judge to get an up-or-down vote. So that actually sounds like, for once, conservatives are on the right side of an issue like this.