July 29, 2015

Negative Views of Supreme Court at Record High, Driven by Republican Dissatisfaction

68% of Conservative Republicans See Court as Liberal

Survey Report

7-29-2015 12-25-38 PMFollowing major, end-of-term rulings on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, unfavorable opinions of the Supreme Court have reached a 30-year high. And opinions about the court and its ideology have never been more politically divided.

7-29-2015 12-26-04 PMCurrently, 48% of Americans have a favorable impression of the Supreme Court, while 43% view the court unfavorably. Unfavorable opinions of the court, while up only modestly since March (39%), are the highest recorded since 1985.

The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted July 14-20 among 2,002 adults, finds that most of the increase in unfavorable views of the Supreme Court has come among Republicans.

Just 33% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of the court, while 61% have an unfavorable view. Since March, the share of Republicans viewing the court favorably has fallen 17 percentage points (from 50% to 33%), while the share with an unfavorable impression has jumped 21 percentage points (from 40% to 61%). Republicans’ views of the Supreme Court are now more negative than at any point in the past three decades.

In contrast, Democrats’ views of the Supreme Court have become more positive since March, though the change has not been as dramatic. Currently, 62% of Democrats have a favorable impression of the court, up from 54% four months ago.

Major Shift in Views of Court’s IdeologyThere also has been a major shift in how Americans, especially those at either end of the ideological spectrum, view the Supreme Court’s ideology. The share of the public saying the current Supreme Court is liberal has doubled since March, driven by changing attitudes among Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans.

Overall, 39% of the public views the court as middle-of-the-road, 36% as liberal and 18% as conservative. The share saying the court is liberal has increased from 26% to 36% over the past few months and stands at its highest point in surveys dating to 2007. There has been a ten-point decline in the number saying the court is conservative (18% today, 28% in March), while the share saying it is middle-of-the-road is little changed (39% now, 38% then).

Currently, 68% of conservative Republicans say the current Supreme Court is liberal – up 20 points since March and by far the highest percentage since 2007. About a quarter of conservative Republicans (24%) say the court has a middle-of-the-road approach and 5% see it as conservative.

Liberal Democrats now generally view the current Supreme Court as middle-of-the-road; in March, most saw the court as conservative. Currently, 49% of liberal Democrats say it is middle-of-the-road (up from 31% in March). Three-in-ten (30%) say it is conservative, down from 56% in March. And 17% say the court is liberal, about double the share who said this in March (8%).

Perceptions of the court’s ideology have changed less among those closer to the middle of the ideological spectrum. Moderate and liberal Republicans’ continue to be divided: 42% see the Supreme Court as middle-of-the-road; 40% say it is liberal and 13% say it is conservative. A plurality of conservative and moderate Democrats (43%) continue to say it is middle-of-the-road.

The change in independents’ views of the Supreme Court’s ideology mirrors the shift among the public: 41% say it is middle-of-the-road, little changed from 38% in March; 36% see it as liberal (up 11 points) and 18% say it is conservative (down 10 points). The share of Republican-leaning independents who say the court is liberal has risen from 38% to 54%. Just 23% of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say the same, up a modest seven percentage points since March.

Other findings

Little Change in Views of Same-Sex Marriage, Affordable Care Act. In contrast to opinions about the Supreme Court, views on two issues that were the subject of its high-profile rulings – same-sex marriage and the 2010 health care law – have shown little change. Currently, 54% of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 39% are opposed. In May, before the Court’s ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, 57% favored and 39% opposed same-sex marriage. The public is divided over the 2010 health care law: 48% approve of the law and 49% disapprove. In February, 45% approved of the health care law and 53% disapproved.

Few Think Supreme Court Justices Set Aside Their Political Views. Seven-in-ten Americans (70%) say that in deciding cases, the justices of the Supreme Court “are often influenced by their own political views.” Just 24% say they “generally put their political views aside” when deciding cases. The belief that justices are swayed by their own political views spans partisan and demographic groups. The survey also finds that a majority of the public (56%) says the court should consider the views of most Americans when deciding cases; 39% say they should not be influenced by public opinion.

Supreme Court Not Viewed as ‘Too Powerful.’ A majority (54%) says the Supreme Court has the right amount of power, while 36% think it has too much power; 7% say it has too little power. Republicans (45%) are more likely than Democrats (32%) or independents (33%) to view the court as too powerful.

Supreme Court Favorability

7-29-2015 12-26-37 PMPartisanship, ideology and religious affiliation are all factors in views of the Supreme Court. In addition, supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage and the 2010 health care law have starkly different opinions about the Supreme Court.

By a 63% to 28% margin, those who favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court. By almost an identical margin (63% to 30%), those who oppose same-sex marriage have an unfavorable impression of the court. The association between views of the court and opinions on same-sex marriage is far stronger than in the past.

Opinions of the court among those who approve and disapprove of the 2010 health care law are similarly divided (61% of those who approve of the law have a favorable opinion of the court, compared with just 33% of those who disapprove). Supporters and opponents of the law were less divided last year, but were similarly split following the court’s 2012 term, in which it ruled the law was constitutional.

Since March, the plunge in the Supreme Court’s favorability among Republicans has largely come among conservatives. Just 27% of conservative Republicans have a favorable impression of the Supreme Court. Four months ago, nearly half (48%) did so. Among moderate and liberal Republicans, there has been a smaller, nine-point decline in positive views of the court (45% now, 54% then).

7-29-2015 12-26-53 PMThe court’s more favorable image among Democrats is largely the result of changing views among the party’s liberals. Seven-in-ten (70%) now have a favorable view of the Supreme Court, up 17 points since March. Opinions among conservative and moderate Democrats are largely unchanged (57% favorable now, 56% then).

By about a two-to-one margin (63% to 30%), white evangelical Protestants view the Supreme Court unfavorably. In March, opinion was divided: 49% viewed the court unfavorably, while 44% had a favorable opinion. Opinion of the Supreme Court among other religious groups has shown less change.

Views of Supreme Court’s Power, Justices’ Partisan Influences

Most Americans (54%) say that the Supreme Court has the right amount of power, while 36% say it is too powerful. Only about one-in-ten (7%) thinks the court has too little power.

Among partisan groups, conservative Republicans are most likely to view the court as too powerful. Nonetheless, nearly as many conservatives say the court has the right amount of power (43%) as say it has too much power (49%). Across other groups, half or more think the Supreme Court has the right amount of power.

Large majorities of those with post-graduate degrees (73%) and college graduates (69%) view the court’s power as appropriate, as do 54% of those who have attended college but have not completed a degree. Adults with no more than a high school diploma are divided: 44% say the court has too much power, 42% think it has the right amount of power and 11% say it has too little power.

7-29-2015 12-27-16 PMThere is broad agreement among the public that in deciding cases, Supreme Court justices are often influenced by their own political views. Fully 70% express this view, compared with just 24% who think that the justices generally put their own political views aside. Large majorities across most demographic and partisan groups say the justices are often influenced by their own political attitudes, though conservative Republicans (80%) are more likely to say this than are liberal Democrats (64%).

When it comes to the role that public opinion should play in the court’s decisions, most Americans think that it should be a factor. A majority (56%) says that in deciding cases, the justices of the Supreme Court should consider what most Americans think. About four-in-ten (39%) say the justices should not be influenced by what most Americans think.

Education is a bigger factor than partisanship in opinions on this measure. Among those with a post-graduate degree, 60% say justices should not be influenced by what most Americans think when they make their decisions; just 35% of post-grads say public opinion should be a factor. Opinion is the almost the reverse among those with no more than a high school diploma: 64% say the justices should consider Americans’ views, while 28% say they should not be a factor.

Views of Same-Sex Marriage, Health Care Law Following Court Decisions

Public opinion about the legalization of same-sex marriage and the 2010 health care law has changed little following the Supreme Court’s decisions on those issues. Currently, 54% of Americans say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, with 39% opposed. In May, 57% favored legalizing same-sex marriage, while 39% opposed.

7-29-2015 12-32-30 PMAs was the case in May, more Americans strongly support same-sex marriage (28%), than strongly oppose it (18%).

The demographic and partisan differences on same-sex marriage also largely mirror those seen in the May survey. (See the “Detailed Tables” in that report for a comprehensive look at opinion on this issue).

Same-sex marriage continues to draw strong support from young people. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those under 30 favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, with 49% strongly favoring this; both are the highest percentages for any age group. In contrast, only 39% of Americans 65 and older say they are in favor, while 52% express opposition.

Conservative Republicans remain staunchly opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. Fully 72% oppose same-sex marriage, with 37% strongly opposed. Liberal Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally; 85% express this view and two-thirds (67%) say they are strongly in favor.

7-29-2015 12-43-12 PMOpinions of the health care law remain divided after the Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s ability to provide insurance subsidies via federal exchanges. Roughly equal shares of Americans say they approve (48%) of the law as say they disapprove (49%).

Partisan differences remain stark over views of the Affordable Care Act. Compared to February, support among Republicans has ticked up slightly but eight-in-ten Republicans (81%) still disapprove of the law while only 18% approve of it. Democrats express approval of the law by a wide 77%-21% margin, little changed from February. Among independents 45% approve of the health care law, while 53% disapprove.

7-29-2015 12-33-00 PMPublic views of the law’s future have not changed significantly. About half of Americans (51%) say the law’s major provisions are probably here to stay, while 43% say they will probably be eliminated. That is almost identical to opinion in February.

Most Democrats (60%) think the law’s major elements are here to stay, while 37% say they are likely to be eliminated. Republicans, by a 53% to 42% margin, expect they will be eliminated. There has been little movement since February among both Democrats and Republicans in views of the law’s future.