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Public Opposes Bork Nearly 2 to 1, Poll Finds

September 28, 1987|DAVID G. SAVAGE | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A new nationwide poll released Sunday found that Americans by a nearly 2 to 1 margin opposed the confirmation of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court.

This latest survey was the fourth national poll issued since Bork testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and all found public opinion turning against the conservative jurist, although by substantially different margins.

The surveys are particularly significant because Bork's confirmation probably depends on about a dozen middle-of-the road senators who remain undecided. Moreover, before the Senate hearings, the White House said Bork's testimony would prove to be "the secret weapon" that would turn public support in his favor.

Support Has Slipped

Instead, for reasons that remain unclear, support for Bork apparently has slipped as a result of his Senate appearance.

Among 1,249 people questioned by Louis Harris Associates, 57% said the Senate should reject President Reagan's nominee to the high court, while 29% said they favored his confirmation. Those who said they watched Bork's testimony on television or followed it closely in the newspapers opposed his confirmation by a 61%-32% margin.

The telephone sample was taken Sept. 17 to 23 and the results were prepared for Tribune Media Service and published in Sunday's New York Daily News. Bork was on the witness stand from Sept. 15 to 19.

The three polls published late last week found the public more evenly divided on Bork than did the Harris poll.

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll of 1,544 adults taken Sept. 21 to 22 found 42% opposed to Bork, 34% in favor and 24% undecided.

A CBS-New York Times poll of 836 persons taken from Sept. 21 to 22 found 26% against, 16% for and 57% undecided.

An ABC-Washington Post poll of 2,116 persons Sept. 17 to 23 found 48% opposed and 44% in favor. In early August, the same polling group found Bork had a 45%-40% margin of support.

Reagan Administration officials say they believe the polling results reflect the harsh anti-Bork advertising and public relations campaigns being waged by groups concerned with civil rights, civil liberties and the environment.

'Hysteria' Cited

"This has a lot to do with the hysteria whipped up by the special interest groups," Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said Sunday. "Their rhetoric has been calculated to whip up fear, to frighten people into believing one member of the court is going to take away their civil rights or let police invade their bedrooms.

"The ultimate consideration is the senators who must weigh the arguments and not blindly follow what opinion polls say," Eastland added.

During five days of Senate hearings, the 60-year old Bork patiently defended his judicial views, appearing to soften his stand on some controversial issues, but holding firm on others. He said, for example, that he can find no "right of privacy" in the Constitution that would justify either Supreme Court rulings throwing out a state law banning the sale of contraceptives or the 1973 decision giving women a right to an abortion.

Free Speech and Civil Rights

However, Bork also dropped his criticism of liberal rulings in the area of free speech and civil rights, saying he "accepted" the court's decisions as "settled law." Bork backers construed these comments as indicating the nominee's unwillingness to overturn such decisions, while his foes cited them as evidence of a "confirmation conversion."

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, an expert on Congress, said Sunday that Bork's support among Southern Democrats, whose backing is crucial to his confirmation, is tenuous and appears to be slipping.

"I would think that the President and his supporters have to be awfully nervous right now," Ornstein said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation." "What looked to be a very comfortable margin . . . is changing to a situation where they may be within a few votes of losing this."

The Senate Judiciary Committee will resume its hearings today, with testimony from law professors and several of Bork's Justice Department colleagues.

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