How should the filibuster be reformed? Democrats and Republicans agree on one measure

April 01, 2021, 5:15 PM UTC

In a Senate with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, Democratic plans are threatened by the chamber’s filibuster rule, where 60 votes are needed in order to pass most forms of legislation. If the filibuster was eliminated, bills would pass based on a simple majority.

Right now, that’s all Democrats have — they hold a slim majority because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tiebreaker in the Senate. She already had to use this position to pass President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill. Even that legislation only passed because the Senate used reconciliation rules (only available for legislation about taxes and spending), and not the normal procedure which applies to most legislation.  

The latest Economist/YouGov poll highlights the current partisan response to the filibuster. Two out of three Republicans (66%) think of the filibuster as a good thing – it helps the minority party express its views and can even be used to block majority proposals and nominees, while a similar proportion of Democrats (69%) find it a bad thing – because it can block (their party’s) majority legislative proposals and appointments. 

The country overall is divided almost evenly on whether the filibuster is a good (47%) or bad (53%) thing. That is a similar margin found on a CBS News poll from 2005: 34% supported the filibuster, and 34% opposed it. But partisans then were divided differently: in 2005, Republicans controlled both Houses in Congress, and that meant that Democrats, not Republicans, were more in favor of the filibuster under those conditions. 

But if a partisan division exists on the filibuster itself, that doesn’t mean that – at least for now – Americans of both parties are unwilling to make some reform of the process. Half of Americans (54%) would go back to a “talking” filibuster, requiring that filibusters take place as they used to – with Senators holding the floor and speaking for as long as they can. This measure is supported by most Republicans (57%) and Democrats (54%). 

As for other proposed reforms, Republicans are divided on making it harder to block legislation with simply the threat of a filibuster (35% support, 34% oppose). Three in five Democrats (60%) favor this change. 

The opinions expressed today may change as any reform is discussed. Half of Republicans (53%) oppose eliminating the filibuster on bills concerning voting rights, which would include a major piece of Democratic legislation - the For the People Act (H.R. 1) - to expand voting access. H.R. 1 was the first bill passed by the Democratic House this session, after an election that three in four Republicans (75%) continue to believe was illegitimate. 

2020 Post Election: Vote Counting
 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 27 - 30, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample   

Image: Getty