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Roberts gets mild thumbs-up

But poll shows Americans want to know more

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new poll finds some Americans want more information before they make up their minds about the man tapped for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Bush's nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court got a mild thumbs-up from the American public, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken Wednesday.

But more than three-fourths of those polled said they need to learn more about him before deciding whether to support him or not.

Roberts, a judge on the federal appellate court for the District of Columbia, spent Wednesday introducing himself to top lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Among members of the public who were polled, positive views of Roberts outweigh negative views by more than three-to-one, but the decision in the court of public opinion may rest with the 21 percent who said they feel neutral.

A bare majority, 51 percent, rate Bush's selection of Roberts as an excellent or good choice; 20 percent said the choice was "only fair" and one in seven said it was a poor choice.

When asked if Roberts' views were extreme or mainstream, three-quarters of those surveyed said they need more information before they can decide. That is a sign of how much public opinion will be shaped by the upcoming battle to define Roberts as a mainstream member of the establishment or a member of the far right.

Another sign that opinion is likely to change after the debate over his nomination: Roberts currently gets a negative rating from just 29 percent of liberals, with 36 percent saying they don't feel one way or the other about him.

Many of those surveyed expect his Senate nomination hearings to touch on the topic of abortion.

Three-quarters say it is appropriate for senators to ask Roberts about his general attitudes toward abortion, and six in 10 say it's OK to ask him about specific abortion cases.

The fact that Bush chose a man to replace the first female justice on the Supreme Court is not a big factor in the public's mind, according to the poll. Only about one in five respondents said that bothers them (although twice as many women as men feel that way).

The telephone poll of 625 adult Americans was taken Wednesday and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

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