That finding comes as a plurality of the public says that President Donald Trump’s choices for the court have changed it for the worse (38% say so) and most disapprove (at 54%) of the Senate’s rules changes that have allowed Supreme Court nominees to move forward to a vote with the support from a simple majority rather than the traditional 60 votes.
All told, 59% say the winner of the upcoming presidential election should choose the person to fill Ginsburg’s seat, including 97% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 17% of Republicans. In March 2016, opinions broke the other way, with 57% saying that President Barack Obama should have been the one to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia rather than the president elected in November. In the new poll, 41% say Trump should make an appointment to the seat now.
There has been a complete partisan reversal over that time, with Republicans moving from 26% saying the sitting president should pick the next justice to 83% saying the same now, while Democrats have moved from 85% saying Obama should have chosen the next justice to 3% saying the same about Trump now. Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, never received a hearing or vote in the Senate, and the seat was ultimately filled by Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Asked to rate the ideological leanings of the current court, 44% say it is about right, 34% too conservative and 22% too liberal. A Trump appointment to the court would almost certainly shift the balance further toward conservatives. The court currently has five conservative justices and three liberal justices. In June 2015, shortly after rulings allowing same-sex marriage nationwide and upholding a key element of the Affordable Care Act, 40% called the court about right, 37% too liberal and 20% too conservative.
Beyond the expected partisan gap on this question (59% of Democrats call the court too conservative, Republicans split between saying it is about right, 44%, and too liberal, 46%), there is also a divide by gender over whether the court is too conservative: 39% of women say it is compared with 28% of men.
If Trump fills Ginsburg’s seat, it will be his third appointment to the high court during his time in office. So far, more Americans say Trump’s appointments have changed the court for the worse (38%) than those who say he has changed it for the better (29%), and 32% say his appointments haven’t made much difference. Democrats are more apt to see his appointments as worse for the court (73%) than Republicans are to say they have improved it (61%).
Most Americans (54%) say they disapprove of a change to the Senate rules used in recent years to allow Supreme Court nominees to move forward to a vote with support from as few as 51 senators rather than the 60 votes required to stop a filibuster. The change, referred to as the “nuclear option,” merits approval from most Republicans (77%) but independents and Democrats largely disapprove (55% of independents and 79% of Democrats disapprove).
Most, 53%, feel the Senate should hold hearings if Trump names a candidate to fill the seat, as he is expected to do on Saturday.
The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS September 21 through 22 among a random national sample of 901 adults interviewed online after being recruited using probability-based methods. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.