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Most Americans Oppose Seating Burris, But Reid’s Options are Few

My wish is Gallup’s command. A new poll commissioned by Gallup and USA Today shows that 51 percent of Americans think that Roland Burris should be blocked from filling his seat in the United States Senate, while just 27 percent support seating him.

The results are a fairly close match for our unscientific poll of readers; 57 percent of you are opposed to Burris taking his seat, and 43 percent in favor

I would say that I’m modestly surprised by these results. I didn’t necessarily expect the majority to support seating Burris — but, I thought he had become a somewhat more sympathetic figure, perhaps having some success in his myriad media appearances portraying himself as an innocent bystander (victim?) in all of this. What’s interesting, though, is that there are not particularly large partisan differences in all of this. In the Gallup poll, Democrats were opposed to seating Burris by a 49-30 margin, and Republicans by a 61-25 margin. Americans seem to see this as a Good Government issue rather than a partisan one.

Still, as Chris Cillizza outlines, Harry Reid is left with few good options. The problem in a nutshell is that there’s no easy way to block Burris from taking his seat. Doing so would entail several more confrontational and potentially embarrassing moments on the Hill followed by a protracted legal battle. Nor do any of the “deals” making the rounds seem particularly viable; Burris could tell read that he wouldn’t run in 2010 in exchange for being seated, for instance, but nothing would bind him to that promise. Perhaps as a result of this, both a majority of our readers and the punters at Intrade think it more likely than not that Burris will eventually be seated.

The exception, of course, might be if Reid were to persuade the Illinois legislature to pass a special elections law, while probably allowing Burris to take his seat on an interim basis until the special election was held. There are numerous benefits to this: the special election option is quite popular both with Americans and Illinoisans; the Democrats could get Burris’s vote in the meantime with little political fallout and no risk of a legal battle; and, if a Democrat won the special election, they would probably put the Rod Blagojevich issue to rest and enter as the heavy favorite in 2010, when the seat is up for a full six-year term.

The risk, naturally, is that the Democrats might lose the seat to Mark Kirk or another Republican. But given that all of the alternatives to a special election carry their own risks, we’re getting pretty close to the point where it is the best option even from a zerosum, partisan perspective. And if a special election is anywhere close to the best option from a capital-D Democratic perspective, surely the fact that is the best option from a lower-case-D democratic perspective should carry some weight.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.