In January 2011, the most recent time Pew Research asked people how much they’d heard about proposals by the Senate’s Democratic leadership to change the filibuster rule, nearly half (49%) said they hadn’t heard anything at all; more than a third (36%) said they’d heard only a little bit. That was down considerably from March 2010, when at the height of debate about the Affordable Care Act — and Republican threats to filibuster the healthcare-reform legislation — fully a third of Americans told an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they’d heard “a lot” about filibustering, and another 26% said they’d heard “some” about it.
In January 2010, when Pew Research asked how many senators are needed to break a filibuster, only about a quarter (26%) knew the correct answer, 60. Almost as many thought only 51 votes were needed — in fact, the rules change that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to adopt, at least in regard to presidential appointments — while more than a third (37%) wouldn’t even venture a guess.
When people are asked directly whether they support or oppose filibusters, their answers haven’t been consistent. For example, a Quinnipiac University poll from March 2010 found 51% saying eliminating the filibuster would be a bad idea, versus 39% saying it would be a good idea). But in January 2011, in another Quinnipiac poll, support for the filibuster had narrowed, with 42% saying ending it would be a good idea and 45% calling it a bad idea.