Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in late February, and partisan controversy about replacing him erupted within hours. Republicans in the Senate, and those running to be President, say that President Obama should not even consider nominating anyone. Instead, they argue that responsibility should fall on the next elected President. Democrats, on the other hand, including Obama, have pointed out the constitution grants appointment powers to the current President without reference to the timing of elections.
Four recent polls by Fox News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and Reuters/Ipso, indicated that American’s views on the proposition of who should fill the seat varied greatly by how the question was worded. When the question was worded more neutrally, such as simply asking their opinion without giving too much background information discussing delaying a nomination until after the elections, people were more split on the decision. However, the Fox News and Reuters polls discussed the arguments about why it should or should not be delayed, leading to more respondents choosing to say that President Obama should make the nomination.
When State students were asked who they think should nominate the next Justice, most of them said it should be President Obama (60%), not the next President (40%). PackPoll anticipated that many students might not care, which seems to be the case because most of them lacked an opinion about Justice Scalia, so half of the time they were told they could say they didn’t have an opinion. Including “no opinion” as an answer option reduced the percentage choosing Obama to 51%, it also reduced the percentage picking the next President to 34%.
Last, and somewhat surprisingly, students’ opinions about replacing Scalia were held more strongly than not. When we asked students “Who should nominate Scalia’s replacement?,” we created two versions of the survey. One allowed students to say “no opinion” while the other did not. In the version without the “no opinion” option, 36% of students said they felt strongly that President Obama should choose the new justice, and 35% said the same when given the option to say “no opinion.” The percentages of students who say they strongly feel the next president should choose are also consistent across versions with 23% and 21%. It seems that the percentages of strongly feeling one way or another did not change (outside of sampling error), which we would expect by forcing those without an opinion to answer.
As seen in both national polling and NC State polling, more people than not prefer that President Obama making the nomination. However, in national polling question wording mattered a lot. Giving respondents more/different information influences their answers. With State students, giving them the opportunity to say “no opinion” didn’t alter the fact that most preferred Obama and not the next President to nominate, but more of those picking Obama who only weakly cared appear to really have no opinion, and say that if they can.
NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: This “flash poll” took place February 23-25, 2016. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 3,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 22% response rate for completed surveys (and 25% for partially completed). Sampling error is +/-3.5% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in this survey because we did not ask about known student demographics such as year in school or gender.
Click here to see a PDF file for the full set of results: Scaliatoplines
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