Supreme Court Approval Rating Best in Four Years

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Six in 10 approve of the job the court is doing

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The U.S. Supreme Court prepares to begin its new term next week enjoying its best approval rating since 2003. In a shift from recent years, Americans are now more likely to describe the Supreme Court as "too conservative" rather than "too liberal," though the largest percentage continues to say it is "about right." Liberals are fairly consistent in the belief that the court is too conservative, while conservatives divide as to whether it is too liberal or about right.

Gallup's annual Governance poll, conducted each September, assesses the public's opinion of the major governmental institutions. This year, the Sept. 7-10 poll finds 60% of Americans approving and 32% disapproving of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job. This is a more positive evaluation than the court has received in recent years.

After approval ratings near 60% from 2000-2003, the Supreme Court's ratings fell into the low 50% range in 2003 and 2004. That decline may have been due to a court ruling at the end of the 2003 term that struck down a Texas law making homosexual sex a crime. A poll conducted at the conclusion of the 2005 term found just 42% of Americans approving of the Supreme Court. That reading came just after the court ruled that local governments could use the power of eminent domain to take land from private homeowners for commercial development purposes, and after the court issued a split decision on whether monuments to the Ten Commandments could be displayed in and around government buildings. By September 2005, the public's rating of the Supreme Court had recovered to 56%.

With its current 60% approval rating, the Supreme Court gets much more favorable performance reviews from the public than President Bush (39%) or Congress (29%) received in the same Sept. 7-10 survey. The Supreme Court has been rated more positively than Congress in each of the six Gallup Governance polls conducted each September since 2001. It has been rated higher than President Bush in three polls (2001, 2005 and 2006), about the same in two others (2003 and 2004), and had a lower approval rating than Bush in 2002.

Approval Ratings of the Three Branches of the Federal Government, Gallup Governance Polls, 2001-2006

Year

President

Congress

Supreme Court

2006

39%

29%

60%

2005

45%

35%

56%

2004

52%

41%

51%

2003

52%

40%

52%

2002

66%

52%

60%

2001

51%

42%

58%

In the most recent poll, Republicans (75%) are more likely to approve of the Supreme Court than independents (60%) or Democrats (48%). Republicans' Supreme Court approval ratings have increased 10 percentage points from last year (65%), while independents' have gone up six percentage points (from 54%) and Democrats have stayed about the same (47%).

Self-described moderates (67%) are slightly more likely to approve than conservatives (61%), but both groups are much more positive than liberals (47%). Last year, the three ideological groups all gave the Supreme Court approval ratings in the mid-50% range.

Supreme Court Ideological Leanings

The changes in the Supreme Court's membership in the last year may explain the more positive evaluation of the Court from Republicans and conservatives. The senate confirmed Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the court, replacing one conservative (William Rehnquist) and one moderate (Sandra Day O'Connor) justice with two conservative jurists.

Gallup's first reading on public perceptions of the court's ideology following the addition of Alito and Roberts shows a slight shift. As has been the case each time since the question was first asked in 1993, the plurality of Americans, 43%, say the court is "about right." But Americans are now more likely to describe the court as "too conservative" (31%) than "too liberal" (21%). Prior to this year, Americans had been more likely to say the court was too liberal, or to be about equally likely to describe it as too liberal or too conservative.

The results to this question differ dramatically by ideological orientation.

Despite the net gain of one conservative justice, 41% of self-identified conservatives still believe the Supreme Court is too liberal. Forty-five percent of conservatives say it is about right, and 9% say it is too conservative. Liberals see the situation very differently -- 64% say the Supreme Court is too conservative, while only 28% say it is about right and 6% say it is too liberal. Forty-nine percent of moderates say the Supreme Court is about right, but they are more likely to describe it as too conservative (33%) than too liberal (14%).

The results are similar when analyzed by political party affiliation, with Democrats inclined to say the Supreme Court is too conservative and Republicans somewhat divided as to whether it is about right or too liberal.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Sept. 7-10. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

4. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Sep 7-10

60

32

8

2005 Sep 12-15

56

36

8

2005 Jun 24-26

42

48

10

2004 Sep 13-15

51

39

10

2003 Sep 8-10

52

38

10

2003 Jul 7-9

59

33

8

2002 Sep 5-8

60

29

11

2001 Sep 7-10

58

28

14

2001 Jun 11-17

62

25

13

2001 Jan 10-14

59

34

7

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

62

29

9

Thinking again about the Supreme Court,

15. In general, do you think the current Supreme Court is too liberal, too conservative, or just about right?

Too
liberal

Too
conservative

About
right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Sep 7-10

21

31

43

6

2005 Sep 12-15

25

25

45

5

2004 Sep 13-15

28

27

40

5

2003 Sep 8-10

31

25

39

5

2001 Sep 7-10

22

25

46

7

1995 Jul 7-9

31

20

41

8

1993 Jun 18-21 ^

22

24

45

9

^ Asked of a half sample.

Trends for Comparison: In its recent rulings, do you think the Supreme Court has been too liberal, too conservative, or just about right?

Too
liberal

Too
conservative

About
right

No
opinion

2003 Jul 7-9

31

15

48

6

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

27

16

49

8

1991 July 11-14

20

25

39

16

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