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Public Opinion on the Supreme Court, 1937-2012

Public Opinion on the Supreme Court, 1937-2012

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As the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its end-of-term rulings, AEI’s Public Opinion team has examined current and historical views of the court and individual justices , comparing questions asked by more 30 major pollsters. Among the major findings of this AEI Public Opinion Study:

*Trust in the Supreme Court is down slightly for the major organizations with long trends. 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.

*People view the judicial branch more positively than the executive of legislative branches.

*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.

* 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.


As the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its end-of-term rulings, AEI’s Public Opinion team has examined current and historical views of the court and individual justices , comparing questions asked by more 30 major pollsters. Among the major findings of this AEI Public Opinion Study:

*Trust in the Supreme Court is down slightly for the major organizations with long trends. 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.

*People view the judicial branch more positively than the executive of legislative branches.

*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.

* 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.


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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: American Enterprise Institute on Jun 14, 2012
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We look below at questions asked during Bush v. Gore and during the during the Court’s hearings
on health care about what does and what should guide the justices.
Most Americans believe Supreme Court Justices’ decisions are not based on strict legal
analysis, but are instead at least partially influenced by personal politics and/or ideological
preferences. This belief appears to be stronger regarding the 2010 health care law than it was back
in 2000, during the Supreme Court’s decision on the Florida presidential vote.

68

• When the President choose a Supreme Court nominee, should he only consider that person’s legal qualifications and
background, or along with legal background, should the President also consider how that nominee might vote on major issues
the Supreme Court decides?

Legal qualifications How might
& background

vote on issues

Sep. 1987

CBS/NYT

38%

54%

• When a Senate votes on a Supreme Court nominee, should it only consider that person’s legal qualifications and background,
or along with legal background, should the Senate also consider how that nominee might vote on major issues the Supreme
Court decides?

Legal qualifications How might
& background vote on issues

Sep. 1987

CBS/NYT

39%

52%

Sep. 1991

CBS/NYT

39

49

Jul. 2005

CBS/NYT

45

47

Jul.-Aug. 2005

CBS/NYT

46

46

Sep. 2005

CBS

33

58

Sep. 2005

CBS/NYT

36

54

Sep.-Oct. 2005

CBS

35

54

Jan. 2006

CBS

41

49

Jun. 2009

CBS/NYT

30

62

• When a President chooses a Supreme Court nominee, should the President only consider that person’s legal qualifications and
background, or should the President also consider how that nominee might vote on major issues the Supreme Court decides?

Legal qualifications How might
& background

vote on issues

Feb.-Mar. 2003 Quinnipiac

59%

34%

• In deciding whether or not to confirm the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court, should the Senate give greater
consideration to the nominee’s qualifications as a judge or to the nominee’s views on these issues facing the Court?

Qualifications Views
as judge on issues Both

Jul. 2005

NBC/WSJ

49%

38%

10%

• Do you think a senator who believes Roberts has the right background and qualifications, but who disagrees with his judicial
philosophy and legal views, should vote for or against Robert’s nomination?

Vote for

Vote against

Jul. 2005

ABC/Wash Post 53%

41%

• Do you think a Supreme Court judge’s personal views should or should not be a factor in his or her decisions on cases before

the court?

Should

Should not

Jul. 2005

CBS/NYT

19%

77%

Jan. 2006

CBS/NYT

25

69

69

• Do you think Supreme Court Justices make their decisions based solely on the law, or do you think their political views enter
into their decisions?

Legal analysis

Political views

Apr. 2010

Quinnipiac

16%

78%

(Demographic breakdowns)

Republican

13%

82%

Democrat

21

72

Independent

13

80

Liberal

17

77

Moderate

18

78

Conservative

13

80

• Do you think the US Supreme Court Justices usually decide their cases based on legal analysis without regard to partisan
politics, or do you think they sometimes let their own partisan political views influence their decisions?

Legal analysis

Partisan political views

Aug. 2010

AP/NCC/GfK

19%

78%

• In general, do you think the current US Supreme Court Justices decide their cases based on legal analysis without regard to
their own ideological views, or do you think they sometimes let their own ideological views influence their decisions?

Legal analysis

Ideological views

Jan. 2012

Kaiser

17%

75%

• In general, do you think the current US Supreme Court Justices decide their cases based on legal analysis without regard to
their own personal or political views, or do you think they sometimes let their own personal or political views influence their
decisions?

Legal analysis

Personal or political views

May-Jun. 2012

CBS/NYT

13%

76%

(Demographic breakdowns)

Republican

12%

75%

Democrat

14

76

Independent

12

76

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