Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's recent decision to eliminate filibusters on most presidential appointees is viewed almost entirely through a partisan prism, with Democrats cheering and Republicans jeering.
A National Journal poll found a majority of Democrats, 59 percent, said they agreed with Reid's move last month to gut the ability of the minority party stall presidential nominees. Republicans strongly disagreed. Only 34 percent said the decision to allow nominees to be confirmed with only 51 votes was the right decision; 60 percent thought it was the wrong one.
Independents split the difference, with a narrow plurality of 46 percent to 45 percent in favor of the controversial rule change.
The sharp partisan divide in the survey came even though the poll question did not mention which party was currently in control of the Senate or had pushed through the rule change.
Overall, a narrow plurality of Americans supported the overhaul of confirmation rules, 47 percent to 44 percent.
Men (50 percent) were a bit more supportive of the filibuster change than women (43 percent), but overall it was party affiliation that provided the starkest contrast. The poll showed no major differences in perspective between the young and the old, those earning less and those earning more than $50,000 per year, and those with college degrees and those without.
In the Senate, leaders of both parties have flip-flopped on changing the filibuster rules—known in D.C. as the "nuclear option." During President George W. Bush's term, when Republicans were in control of the Senate, Reid was among the strongest opponents and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a supporter. Now that Reid is in the majority and McConnell is the minority leader, their roles have reversed.
The power to filibuster remains in place for legislation, and a majority of Americans believe it should stay that way. A solid 54 percent of respondents said they would prefer to keep the current 60-vote threshold that is needed to advance most legislation—and end filibusters—in the Senate. Only 37 percent said they'd prefer to see the threshold be dropped to 51 votes, as it has been for confirmations of all posts other than the Supreme Court.
Republicans have said that Democrats "will pay a very, very heavy price for" changing the rules, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., put it. One possibility that has been dangled is that a future GOP-controlled Senate would do away with filibusters on legislation now that Reid opened the door to the majority party muscling through rules changes mid-session.
Americans' opinions were also divided by political party on the issue of changing the vote threshold for legislation. More than two-thirds of Republicans, 69 percent, want to keep the 60-vote requirement for new laws while a bare majority, 50 percent, of Democrats want to lower the threshold to 51. Independents, once again, fell in between, with 58 percent in favor of the current threshold for legislation.
Interestingly, young Americans, those between ages 18 and 29, were among the most intent on keeping the 60-vote threshold, with 60 percent of them supporting it. Those with college degrees (58 percent) were also more likely to support the existing threshold for legislation than those with less schooling.
The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted by landline and cell phone by Princeton Survey Research Associates International Dec. 12-15. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the December 20, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.