New AEI Public Opinion Study on attitudes towards the Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court hands down its end-of-term rulings, AEI Senior Fellow and public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman and researcher Andrew Rugg examine current and historical views of the court and individual justices, comparing questions asked by more 30 major pollsters. Among the findings of this AEI Public Opinion Study on the Supreme Court:

     
  • Trust in the Supreme Court is down slightly per the major polling organizations with long trends studies. Harris found a seven-point drop in high trust between 1966 and 2011. Gallup shows a six-point drop between 1973 and 2011, and the National Opinion Research Center reports a two-point drop between 1973 and 2010.
       
    • In a late May/early June CBS News/New York Times poll, 44 percent approved of the way the court is handling its job. In 2000, the first time Gallup asked the identical question about the court’s job performance, 62 percent approved.   The Pew Research Center’s measure of favorability for 2012 is the lowest in 25 years.
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  • Despite the drop in approval, people view the judicial branch more positively than the executive and legislative branches.
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  • Strong pluralities usually tell pollsters that the court’s ideological balance is “about right.” A Fox News question from 2012, for example, found that 45 percent thought the court was “about right” in its decisions, while 26 percent said it was “too liberal” and 21 percent “too conservative.”
 
  • Americans believe that the justices bring their personal views to their decisions. In 1946, 43 percent said the court decided many questions based on politics. In a late May/early June 2012 CBS News/New York Times poll, 76 percent said the court decides cases based on personal and political views, not legal analysis. When asked specifically about the health care case, around 50 percent believe the justices will let their partisan or ideological views enter into their decisions.
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  • Most Americans are not familiar with individual justices. In a 2010 Pew poll, only 28 percent could identify John Roberts as the chief justice. During Roberts’s confirmation hearing in September 2005, 53 percent told Pew he was “generally considered” a conservative, and 25 percent didn’t know. Two years later, 37 percent said he was generally considered a conservative and 48 percent didn’t know. It is unlikely that the health care ruling will shape Roberts’s legacy in the public consciousness.

Karlyn Bowman can be reached at [email protected] or 202.862.5910 (research assistant [email protected] or 202.862.5917). For additional help, other media inquiries, or to reserve AEI's in-house TV studio or ISDN facilities, please contact [email protected] or 202.862.5823.

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