May 6, 2014

Supreme Court Favorability Rebounds

Continuing Partisan Divide in Views of Court’s Ideology

Survey Report

Favorable views of the Supreme Courtgraph over time showing supreme court favorability are back above 50%, having rebounded from historic lows reached in the summer of 2013. However, the court still has several major decisions pending that could impact the public’s views, including rulings on challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers include contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health plans.

The latest survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted April 23-27 among 1,501 adults, finds that 56% have a favorable view of the court, while 35% have an unfavorable view. (The survey was conducted before the court’s ruling that a town council in New York and, by extension, other legislatures, can begin meetings with a Christian prayer.) Last July, following high-profile rulings on the Voting Rights Act and same-sex marriage, about half held a favorable view of the court (48%), among the lowest measures recorded in Pew Research surveys.

views of supreme court by political party republican democrat independentCurrently, more Democrats (63%) than Republicans (54%) have a favorable impression of the Roberts court, though the gap has narrowed considerably since July 2012. At that time, shortly after the court upheld most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, 64% of Democrats viewed the court favorably compared with just 38% of Republicans.

table showing views by race blacks of supreme court voting rights act decisionBlacks hold a favorable view of the Supreme Court by about a two-to-one margin (63%-30%). In July 2013, blacks were divided in their views of the court (44% favorable, 41% unfavorable).

That survey was fielded shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the core elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, widely seen as a landmark piece of legislation enacted to prohibit discrimination in voting. Current views of the court among blacks are similar to those expressed in March 2013, before the Voting Rights Act ruling.

Views of the Court’s Ideology

views of the supreme court republican independentThe public is divided when it comes to views of the Supreme Court’s ideology. About a third (35%) say that the court is middle of the road, while 31% call it liberal and 25% call it conservative. The percentage calling the court liberal has edged up five points since the summer of last year. In July 2013, about as many described the court as liberal (26%) as conservative (23%), while 42% called it middle of the road.

Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats continue to have very different opinions about the court’s ideology. About half of conservative Republicans (53%) say the Roberts court is liberal, while 33% say it is middle of the road and just 9% view it as conservative. By contrast, more liberal Democrats (47%) say the court is conservative than say it is middle of the road (33%) or liberal (19%).