- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

In an effort to educate voters about Democrats’ continued obstruction of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Senate Republicans took an extraordinary step last month and staged a rare all-night debate. Their efforts are paying off — at least in the minds of the electorate. We found that a significant fraction of voters were not only aware of the debate, but more importantly, that efforts to change public opinion on this issue seem to be working. Those are the conclusions from the November edition of the American Survey (conducted Nov. 18-20 among 600 registered voters, 4.0 percent margin of error).

More specifically, in an attempt to measure the attention of voters, we asked whether people were aware of the recent all-night debate. We were surprised that almost three-fifths (57 percent) said they were, and about two-fifths (39 percent) correctly identified judicial nominations as the subject of the proceedings.

This surprising level of knowledge about congressional activities also was present more generally. For instance, when asked to identify a major achievement of Congress this year, about 40 percent of the respondents managedtovolunteereither Medicare reform, tax cuts, improving national security or some other discrete accomplishment.

Finally,we wanted to determine progress (or lack thereof) on the issue of judicial nominations. In April’s survey, we asked whether the Democrats’ attempts to prevent votes on the judicial nominations were an appropriate exercise of Democrats’ minority rights under the Senate rules or simple obstructionism. In that survey, 55 percent said it was an appropriate exercise of their rights, just 38 percent said it was obstructionism. In November’s post-all-night-debate survey, the numbers switched. Forty-eight percent said it was obstructionism and 36 percent said it is a proper exercise of their rights.

The switch is very likely a product of the steady and patient communications effort of the Republicans, as well as the continued vocal, unapologetic and sometimes embarrassing opposition of the Democrats to oppose nominees whose sole defect is that they are insufficiently obsequious to the political status quo.

At any rate, we believe that the shift in attitudes about judicial nominees, taken together with the more general issue awareness, suggests a couple of things. First, despite our initial expectations (and despite the traditional role of the White House as the center of political communication in this nation), it seems plausible to conclude that a determined effort on the part of congressional leadership can shape public opinion. Second, it may be possible for the Republicans to use the permanently stalled, half-dozen judicial nominations to impress voters that Democrats are, at best, interested mostly in obstructing and, at worst, not very interested in fair play.

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