- A new poll from Marquette University Law School finds court approval ratings have plummeted among Republicans.
- The drop comes despite the addition by Donald Trump of 3 conservative judges.
- The addition of Amy Coney Barrett changed the composition of the Supreme Court to a Conservative 6-3 majority.
- Expert: One possible explanation is that GOP voters are frustrated that the court has not moved far enough to the right.
A strange thing happened to the public perception of the Supreme Court.
With three Donald Trump candidates, the tribunal now has its most conservative makeup in years.
But court perceptions have worsened – not better – among Republicans across the country.
A new national survey from Marquette University Law School finds that the High Court approval rate among GOP adults has fallen since last September from 80% to 57%. At that time, a conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett, replaced a liberal, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Meanwhile, the court’s approval ratings among Democrats (59%) and Independents (61%) are virtually unchanged.
A recent Gallup survey revealed a similar pattern: a decline in overall public approval for the court since last year – but more due to changes among Republicans than changes among Democrats.
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“The striking change is clearly the decline in Republicans’ approval,” despite a larger conservative majority on the ground, said Charles Franklin, who conducted the Marquette poll.
Why are Republicans less favorable to a court with a conservative 6-3 majority than they were to a court with a conservative 5-4 majority?
One possible explanation is that GOP voters are frustrated that the court did not move to the right as much as they would like, or that the court did not participate in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, Franklin said. .
A case of “buyer’s remorse” right?
The results come amid a debate over the court’s last term, which ended in July. In several high-profile cases, judges have rendered a conservative ruling but did not go as far as many predicted.
Some observers have attributed the narrower-than-expected results in these cases to Chief Justice John Roberts, an institutionalist who tried to avoid political controversies and sudden overthrow in court. Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett have joined this effort in some of the recent cases decided by the court.
The slow approach has created a sense of “buyer’s remorse” among some on the right, said Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston and conservative legal blogger.
“When it comes to social issues, there’s a feeling they’re going to strike but pull out at the last second,” Blackman said.
But the survey does not directly address these possibilities. Franklin said a caveat about such explanations is that most members of the public don’t follow what the court is doing very closely.
Franklin said another possibility is that the departure of Republican Trump and the shift in power to Democratic control of the White House and Congress has soured Republicans more broadly over Washington institutions. In other words, the declining court approval of the GOP has less to do with everything the court has done than with changes in the political landscape.
In fact, Republicans and Democrats believe the court has taken a conservative direction since last year, according to the Marquette poll. But Republicans were less aware than Democrats that GOP chairmen had nominated the majority of tribunal members.
Overall, 60% of adults approved of the court’s work and 39% disapproved. Last September, those ratings were more positive, with 66% approval and 33% disapproval.
Progressives argue that the court’s perceptions have been skewed by media coverage that overstated the importance of a handful of unanimous decisions. The court, they say, actually swung to the right in the last term, severely weakening the 1965 Voting Rights Act, making it more difficult for unions to organize on private property and raising questions. on the constitutionality of requiring disclosure of campaign donors.
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“What do we say of Republicans when they are disappointed that the court does not cut health care for millions of people? Asked Daniel Goldberg, legal director of the Liberal Alliance for Justice.
“I hope court reporters and commentators speak to the real people affected by these horrific court decisions,” Goldberg said. “I think if you look at the end of the term, all of what they’ve done has done our democracy great harm.”
There were other wrinkles in the Marquette poll results.
There is virtually no partisan gap in the overall perception of the court, unlike the highly polarized public views of the President and Congress: 57% of Republicans approve of the way the court does its job, as do 59 % of Democrats and 61% of Independents.
But there are big gaps in how Democrats and Republicans view most individual members of the court, how they view many recent court decisions, and how they view the idea of increasing the number of judges on the court. court (with most Republicans opposed and most Democrats in favor).
The most polarizing judges are Kavanaugh and Barrett, appointed by Trump: Kavanaugh has a net favor rating of minus 53 among Democrats and over 54 among Republicans; Barrett has a net score of minus 40 among Democrats and over 53 among Republicans. (These net scores are based on the difference between the share of people who have a favorable opinion of a justice and the share who have an unfavorable opinion).
There are smaller partisan gaps in how most of their colleagues in the field are viewed.
The striking exception to this partisan model is Roberts, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, who in recent years has received higher poll scores from Democrats than Republicans after siding with the side. liberal judges on certain key decisions.
In the new Marquette poll, Roberts has a net score of just plus 4 among Republicans, but plus 23 among Democrats.
Divided views on recent court decisions
The poll found big differences in how Democrats and Republicans viewed some recent court rulings.
In the most cited example of justices pursuing a smaller outcome, a unanimous Supreme Court in June sided with a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia that refuses to screen same-sex couples. as potential parents. Although the decision was a loss for progressives, its scope was narrower than the Conservatives had hoped.
Almost three in ten respondents said they supported the decision, compared with 19% who said they were against it. More than half said they had not heard enough about the case to form an opinion. Republicans who expressed an opinion saw it positively, Democrats negatively.
In another case, a 7-2 majority launched the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, but in a surprisingly limited fashion: rather than examining the merits of the arguments regarding the constitutionality of the law, they declared that conservative states have standing because they were not directly injured.
This was the most followed case among those polled by Marquette: 42% of those polled said they approved the result compared to 18% who said they opposed it. Republicans took a dim view of the decision: Democrats were overwhelmingly positive.
But the gaps were smaller on other decisions, including a decision that sided with a former high school cheerleader who was kicked from the junior varsity squad for a vulgar media post. social. Adults on both sides welcomed the school’s First Amendment speech.
Pollster Franklin noted that public opinion on the Court often comes with a big caveat: the public is not as knowledgeable or opinionated about the High Court as it is towards both parties. and the partisan institutions they fight over, Congress and the White House.
This is perhaps one of the reasons that the court’s public evaluations are consistently more positive than the evaluations of Congress or the President. In the Marquette survey, the most knowledgeable adults were the most divided and the least positive about the court.
Some of the most important court cases of 2021 were unknown to most members of the public.
And while about 60% of adults were able to rate the best known of the current nine judges, Kavanagh and Clarence Thomas, only a quarter were able to rate the lesser known, Stephen Breyer. Only 43% were able to rate Roberts.
The Marquette nationwide survey of 1,010 adults was conducted July 16-26, using an online panel of respondents who were randomly recruited. The survey sample was weighted to reflect characteristics of the general population. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.