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Most people are open to changing the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation

According to a new Vox/Data for Progress poll, many Americans support a change in Senate rules to pass a voting rights bill and other Biden agenda items.

Voters stand in line in Atlanta to cast their ballots during early voting in Georgia’s US Senate runoff on December 14, 2020.
Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

A majority of likely voters are open to the Senate eliminating the legislative filibuster in order to pass a voting rights bill and the $15 minimum wage, according to a new survey from Vox and Data for Progress.

This poll, which asked if people would support changing the Senate’s standard vote threshold for a bill to 51 votes, found that 53 percent were strongly or somewhat supportive of doing so in order to advance a $15 minimum wage, and 52 percent felt the same about the For the People Act, which contains a broad spectrum of voting reforms including efforts to end partisan gerrymandering.

Currently, because of the legislative filibuster, most bills require 60 votes to pass the Senate, though Democrats could change these rules if all 50 members of their caucus —along with Vice President Kamala Harris — agreed to do so. Were Democrats to take this step, they’d be able to advance legislation unilaterally, without Republican support, given the Senate’s 50-50 breakdown. (That’s assuming the whole caucus stuck together, which could be a feat in and of itself.)

Ethan Winter/Data for Progress

In addition to their support for voting rights and a $15 minimum wage, more than half of voters would also strongly or somewhat back eliminating the legislative filibuster in order to pass President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure plan, which would include significant investments in roads, broadband and clean energy. Almost half of all voters feel the same about gun control measures that would establish universal background checks, and the DREAM Act, which would guarantee a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.

These findings differ notably across party lines, with Democrats and independents more open to such changes, compared to Republicans. Eighty-one percent of Democrats, and 47 percent of independents support such rules changes in order to pass a $15 federal minimum wage, while only 27 percent of Republicans do, for instance. Similarly, 81 percent of Democrats, and 45 percent of independents are open to eliminating the filibuster in order to approve the For the People Act, while 24 percent of Republicans are.

These breakdowns likely reflect broader sentiment toward Democratic Senate control and their ability to approve policies along partisan lines if they did away with the legislative filibuster. When asked directly about whether legislation in general should require 60 votes vs. 51 votes to pass, support for the lower threshold saw similar partisan breaks: 60 percent of Democrats, 47 percent of independents, and 25 percent of Republicans favored the lower threshold.

Beyond eliminating the filibuster entirely, another reform that’s been proposed, and recently cited by Biden, would be to bring back the “talking” filibuster. That change wouldn’t alter the number of votes a bill requires to pass, but it would require lawmakers interested in filibustering a bill to physically speak on the Senate floor for an extended period of time, rather than just voicing their objections as they do now.

That reform has the backing of 54 percent of people in this poll, including 51 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans. The slightly higher support from independents and Republicans could be because this option is seen as a compromise measure in lieu of eliminating the filibuster outright, according to DFP analyst Ethan Winter.

Because of this, Democrats may not be as open to it since they may favor a full elimination of the filibuster, but members of other parties would be. Additionally, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop has explained, such a reform could actually be more harmful to the party in the majority because it causes delays.

The polling suggests public support for getting rid of the filibuster is not immovable; people may be more or less supportive of the rule change if it can advance specific policy measures. This dynamic will be one to watch in the coming months as popular policies like voting reforms get stymied in the Senate because of lack of Republican support. Whether such roadblocks increase the pressure on Democrats to eliminate the filibuster is an open question.

This poll was fielded between March 12 and 14, and includes 1,199 respondents. It has a sampling margin of error of 3 percentage points.