Last week, I wrote that the Republicans have an opportunity with the Sonia Sotomayor nomination not to conduct filibusters or fire-breathing sermons, but to calmly and dispassionately demonstrate that neither she nor Barack Obama represent the opinions of the majority of Americans on identity politics.  A new Quinnipiac poll underscores that opportunity.  A majority of voters across a wide swath of demographics oppose affirmative action and race- and gender-based setasides in government, education, and academia:

American voters say 55 – 36 percent that affirmative action should be abolished, and disagree 71 – 19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer’s ruling in the New Haven firefighters’ case, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

More than 70 percent of voters say diversity is not a good enough reason to give minorities preferential treatment in competition for government or private sector jobs, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of more than 3,000 voters finds.

This poll brings good news to those who want to see a color-blind society.  For the most part, all demographics favor protections for the disabled, but not for ethnicity and gender:

  • Support 55 – 39 percent affirmative action for the disabled in hiring, promotions and college admissions. Protestants and Catholics support it, 49 – 46 percent and 49 – 47 percent, respectively. Jews also support it 59 – 25 percent;
  • Oppose 70 – 25 percent giving some racial groups preference for government jobs to increase diversity. Black voters support it 49 – 45 percent while Hispanic voters are opposed 58 – 38 percent;
  • Oppose 74 – 21 percent giving some racial groups preference for private sector jobs to increase diversity. Voters in every racial and religious group oppose this;
  • Oppose 64 – 29 percent affirmative action for Hispanics in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support it 59 – 30 percent while Hispanics split 47 – 48 percent;
  • Oppose 61 – 33 percent affirmative action for blacks in hiring, promotion and college entry. Black voters support this 69 – 26 percent, as do Hispanics 51 – 46 percent;
  • Oppose 62 – 32 percent affirmative action for white women in hiring, promotion and college entry. Women oppose this 58 – 35 percent but blacks support it 55 – 37 percent.

This puts Sotomayor and Obama in a narrow group that still favors preferential treatment and outcome-based policies.  Republicans should see this as the real goal of the confirmation hearings – to communicate this to the entire electorate.  As the poll demonstrates, it entails almost no risk and a large potential upside.

But in order to make that argument, they need to stick to rational arguments based on Sotomayor’s own words and her decisions, especially on Ricci.  The GOP needs to avoid the inflammatory personal insults and the demand for obstructionism and focus on the fight they can win.  Most Americans will agree that a President has the prerogative to get his judicial appointments a fair vote, at the very least.  That doesn’t mean Republicans have to vote to confirm Sotomayor, but a filibuster won’t work, and a failed attempt will make the GOP look even more impotent.

In this case, Republicans represent the majority of Americans.  They have a great opportunity to use the confirmation hearings as a stage to demonstrate that, as well as demonstrate their readiness not just to oppose Obama but to prove themselves trustworthy enough for leadership in DC.