GOP Approval of Supreme Court Surges, Democrats’ Slides

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The FINANCIAL — In the past year, Republicans’ job approval rating of the Supreme Court has surged while Democrats’ rating has plummeted. Sixty-five percent of Republicans now approve of the Supreme Court, up from 26% last year. Meanwhile, Democrats’ approval has fallen from 67% in 2016 to 40%.

The latest data, collected in a Sept. 6-10 Gallup poll, come as the Supreme Court prepares for its new term next week.

Since Gallup’s previous poll on approval of the judicial branch a year ago, Republican President Donald Trump was elected, and his nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed. Gorsuch has established a conservative role for himself in his early months as a justice, and Trump’s presidency means it’s likely a Republican president will be in place to appoint at least one more justice in the years ahead, given the age of several current members.

Both major political parties’ views of the court have varied drastically over Gallup’s trend since 2000. The ups and downs in the trend appear to reflect changes in political power as well as decisions made by the court itself.

Republicans’ approval of the court since 2000 has varied more widely than has Democrats’ approval. Republicans offered a record-high 80% approval rating of the court shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which made George W. Bush president. The GOP hit a low in approval of the court, at 18% in 2015, after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide and rejected a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The GOP’s current approval of the Supreme Court is its highest since September 2008, the last reading under a Republican president.

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Democrats’ ratings of the Supreme Court were highest (75%) after President Barack Obama’s nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, was confirmed to the court. It’s worth noting that this rating came after the court’s 2015 decisions on the ACA and same-sex marriage (76%). Democrats’ lowest ratings of the court of 38% and 42% in 2007 and 2008, respectively, are similar to their 40% rating now.

Overall Approval of Court Remains Below Majority Level

Currently, 49% of Americans as a whole approve of how the Supreme Court is handling its job. This is on the higher end of the 42% to 49% range in the institution’s approval since 2011. Prior to that, approval of the court rarely dipped below the 50% mark; the average approval rating of the Supreme Court from 2000 to 2010 was 55%. The waning in approval of the court coincides with the larger decline of confidence in institutions Gallup has recorded.

Bottom Line

The judicial branch of government was the only federal branch to receive higher trust and confidence ratings from the American people in 2017 than it did the previous year, and it has also been the most trusted branch of government most years in Gallup’s decades-long trend.

Americans’ approval of the job the Supreme Court is doing also edged up this year, but even with that increase, less than half of Americans today approve — as has been the case for several years — with Republicans and Democrats offering opposing verdicts.

Given several politically charged issues on the court’s docket for this upcoming term — religious liberties vs. gay rights and partisan gerrymandering — how it handles each case could have a big effect on whether Republicans remain positive in their views and whether Democrats will remain mostly negative.

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