The latest FOX News poll finds that almost half of voters approve of John Roberts' (search) nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and a clear majority thinks he is qualified to serve as a justice. Views are sharply divided on whether it is acceptable for Roberts to decline to answer questions on past or future Supreme Court cases.

By 48 percent to 17 percent voters approve of Roberts’ nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (search), with 34 percent unsure. There are predictable partisan differences, as more than twice as many Republicans (71 percent) approve of his nomination as Democrats (30 percent).

“The small level of opposition to Roberts’ nomination indicates the public has yet to hear anything they consider controversial about the nominee,” comments Opinion Dynamics Corporation Vice President Lawrence Shiman.

Men are 12 percentage points more likely than women to approve of the nomination; however, women are not significantly more likely to disapprove (only 2 points more likely). Rather, more women than men are undecided (+9 percentage points).

Overall, about two-thirds of voters (65 percent) think Roberts is qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court, including 54 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents. Ten percent think he is unqualified and 25 percent are undecided.

Voters split evenly when asked if it would be acceptable for Roberts to refuse to answer questions related to past or future Supreme Court cases, as some nominees have done in previous confirmation hearings. Just over four in 10 (41 percent) say it would be acceptable for Roberts to decline to answer and 43 percent say unacceptable.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on July 26-27. President George W. Bush announced his selection of Roberts on July 19.

By two-to-one Americans think decisions made by President Bush about the war against terrorism (54 percent) will have more of a long-term, lasting affect on the country than his decisions about Supreme Court justices (23 percent). Fifteen percent think both decisions are equally important.

By 63 percent to 29 percent voters think, as president, Bush should be able to choose a nominee who shares his political philosophy. A 56 percent majority thinks Roberts is more of a conservative, 8 percent more of a liberal and 28 percent are unsure.

The poll finds that just over half of Americans (51 percent) would vote to confirm Roberts, if they were personally voting, and an overwhelming 83 percent majority says they have yet to hear anything that would disqualify him from serving on the court.

While there is widespread belief the Senate will confirm Roberts (70 percent), many Americans express skepticism about the process. By a 47 percent to 28 percent margin, voters think most Senators are more interested in stopping people they disagree with than in confirming a good judge.

In addition, 39 percent think the confirmation process will be “civilized and respectful,” but a 45 percent plurality thinks a “political mud fight” is more likely.

“This suggests more about public attitudes toward the political system as a whole rather than on any particular issue,” notes Shiman. “People have come to believe political mud fights are likely whenever Congress needs to take action.”

Even though it’s only been about a week since the announcement, the Roberts’ nomination isn’t the hot topic at the water cooler. Less than one in five Americans (18 percent) say their friends and neighbors are talking “a lot” about the nomination.

The top items people are talking about include the summer heat wave (55 percent “a lot”), the situation in Iraq (53 percent), the London bombings (46 percent) and the economy (42 percent).

Rating the President

The poll shows no real change in President Bush’s job rating this week: 47 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove. His approval rating has been hovering in the forties and low fifties since the start of his second term.

Here are some of the other poll findings:

Respondents were asked to compare the views of President Bush and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) — someone many political observers consider the current frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Opinion is somewhat divided, as about four in 10 voters (42 percent) think Bush’s political views are “more mainstream” and 35 percent think Clinton’s are. Ten percent say “neither.”

Bush tops the list when, for fun, voters were asked which person they would most like to take along on a cross-country driving trip. The top two road-trip companions are Bush (24 percent) and Hillary Clinton (20 percent). Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani each receive 15 percent, and both Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy receive 5 percent.

Instead of selecting from the list of names, a few voters — 8 percent — say they “wouldn’t go” on the trip.

Who can the public trust to tell them the truth these days? Over twice as many voters say they trust news reporters than trust government officials to tell the truth (38 percent and 18 percent respectively), although a third say “neither” can be trusted.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.