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Roberts > Sotomayor > Alito?

Gallup and Rasmussen have the first overnight polling on Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the two polls show a broadly similar, and moderately favorable, reaction, I’m going to focus on the Gallup data because it provides for a comparison with George W. Bush’s three nominees to the Court.

Gallup asked its respondents to rate each nominee as excellent, good, fair or poor. I’m going to create a quick Likert-type score for each one, assigning 10 points for each response of ‘excellent, 7 points for ‘good’, 3 points for ‘fair’ and 0 points for ‘poor’; cases in which the respondent had no opinion on the nominee are discarded.

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By this very rudimentary analysis, Sotomayor rates as a slightly more popular selection than Samuel Alito and Harriet Miers, and slightly less popular than John Roberts.

Still, the differences are small across — just barely on the fringes of statistical significance — the board. In certain ways, it’s disappointing to see that the public wasn’t better able to distinguish Roberts, who objectively speaking was a strong nominee, from Miers, who, um, wasn’t. It seems like 80 percent of the public is making a snap judgment on the basis of partisanship (which should, of course, be helping Sotomayor because of the Democratic plurality right now) whereas only a small fraction are actually looking at the nominee’s credentials.

Of course, public opinion can change as they learn more about a nominee — as it did in an unfavorable way for Miers. So perhaps that small vanguard of people who are not judging the nominee on a partisan basis are leading indicators of sorts. Of the 18 Republican Senators who voted on Sotomayor in 1998, 7 or 39 percent voted to confirm her. Translated over the entire, 40-member Republican caucus, that would translate to 15-16 yea votes, which when coupled with what will presumably be 59 Democratic yeas, would produce a 74- or 75-vote margin for her overall. That would put her ahead of Samuel Alito’s 58-vote confirmation (indeed, she could beat Alito without any Republican votes) but just behind Roberts’ 78.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Filed under Supreme Court 79 posts, Sotomayor 9

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