Americans' first impressions of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch tilt positive, and a plurality say the Senate ought to vote to confirm President Donald Trump's selection to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.
Overall, 49% say the Senate should vote to confirm Gorsuch, who is a federal judge. That's roughly the same share that said so about Samuel Alito in 2005 and Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 shortly after their nominations were announced. Support for Gorsuch is just a hair below that of former President Barack Obama's selection for the same seat, Merrick Garland (52% supported a vote in favor), who did not receive a hearing or confirmation vote in the Senate.
About half say Gorsuch's ideological position is about right (49%), less than said so about Garland (56%). About a third, 34%, say they think Gorsuch will be too conservative, higher than the share who said so of other successful GOP nominees Alito (29%), John Roberts (24%) or Clarence Thomas (20%).
Overall, though, 39% say they have a positive first impression of Gorsuch, significantly higher than the 24% who say they have a negative impression of him. More, 45%, said they had a positive first impression of Garland after his pick was announced last year and 54% felt positively about Roberts after his announcement.
Republicans are broadly behind a vote in favor of Gorsuch (84% say the Senate should confirm him), while Democrats are mostly opposed (61% say he should not be confirmed). The partisan divide was a bit less sharp on Garland, with 80% of Democrats in support of confirmation and 54% of Republicans opposed.
Now, Democrats are more apt to say Gorsuch would be "too conservative" on the bench (53% say so) than Republicans were to say that Garland would be "too liberal" in March of last year shortly after his nomination was announced (44%).
About half (51%) say Senate Democrats would be justified if they used Senate procedures to block Gorsuch, only slightly higher than the 48% who said Senate Republicans would be justified in doing so with Obama's selection to replace Scalia before Garland was named as the then-president's pick.
Assessing the Republican leaders in Congress who will manage Gorsuch's confirmation process, their approval ratings are on the rise. At the outset of this first period of GOP control of both houses of Congress and the White House since 2007, 39% approve of the way they're handling their jobs.
That's the highest approval rating for GOP leadership since the CNN/ORC poll began asking in 2008, and above the 35% who approved shortly after they regained control of the House of Representatives in 2011. It falls well below the 60% who approved of Democratic leaders in Congress in 2009, however, as that party began a two-year stint in control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
Democratic leaders now hold a lower approval rating than Republicans, just 33% approve. This marks the first time in CNN/ORC polling dating back to 2008 that the Democratic leadership has an approval rating below that of the Republican leadership. The difference stems from perceptions of each party's leaders among their own faithful: Just 59% of Democrats approve of their party's leaders, compared with 77% of Republicans who approve of their leaders.
The same poll found that 42% of Americans feel the media is being too critical of Trump, with 36% saying the media are providing fair treatment to the President and 22% believing that the media aren't being critical enough.
Republicans are especially skeptical about the President's coverage, with 85% saying the media are being too tough on Trump. Those figures are a sharp departure from assessments of media coverage during the early days of Obama's time in office. Back then, 55% felt the media was giving the new president a fair shake, 18% that media were too critical and 26% not critical enough.
The CNN/ORC poll was conducted by telephone January 31 through February 2 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.