More Americans think Supreme Court is too conservative

October 1, 2017 9:03pm

•  30 percent of Americans say the Supreme Court is too conservative

•  23 percent say the court is too liberal

For the first time in nearly a decade, more Americans are telling the polling company Gallup Inc. that the Supreme Court is too conservative (30 percent) than too liberal (23 percent).

These views are reversed from last year, when 37 percent said the court was too liberal and 20 percent too conservative.

Overall, the most popular view is that the Supreme Court's ideology is "about right" (43 percent).

The data are from Gallup's annual Governance Poll, conducted September 6-10.

The shift toward the court being viewed as "too conservative" comes as Republicans control the entire federal government -- the White House, both houses of Congress and have ideological allies in five of the nine Supreme Court justices.

While more Americans now say the court is too conservative than too liberal, the seven-percentage-point gap is smaller than the 17-point gaps in 2015 and 2016 when many more thought the court was too liberal than too conservative, Gallup says. The relatively strong perception in those two years that the court was too liberal likely stemmed from the court upholding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act in June 2015, it says.

Since Gallup first measured perceptions of the court's ideology in 1993, Americans have said the court is too liberal rather than too conservative 11 out of the 18 times the question has been asked. Across this period, an average 28 percent called the court too liberal while 24 percent called it too conservative, according to Gallup’s data.

Perception of Court Likely Influenced by President's Party, Justices

Shifts in Americans' perceptions of the ideological leaning of the court suggest these views are likely influenced by the current president's political party and the justices they appoint. During George W. Bush's first few years in office, from 2001 to 2005, Americans were roughly divided over whether the court was too liberal or too conservative. In 2006, at the same time Mr. Bush's approval rating had slumped into the 30s, but also after his two Supreme Court nominees -- John Roberts and Samuel Alito -- were confirmed, more Americans saw the court as too conservative, and that continued through 2008.

Gallup's first measure of the court's ideology during the Barack Obama administration, in late August/early September 2009, found a shift toward more Americans calling the court too liberal than too conservative. Because the poll was conducted after Mr. Obama had already nominated his first Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, in May 2009, it is unclear whether his presidency or his appointment of Ms. Sotomayor was the catalyst for the change. However, Gallup found no meaningful shift in views after Mr. Obama appointed another left-leaning justice, Elena Kagan, in 2010. It wasn't until 2015, following the court's same-sex marriage and ACA rulings earlier that year, that the proportion calling the court too liberal increased further, Gallup says.

The latest measure under Donald Trump, the first since he took office and after his nominee for the court, Neil Gorsuch, was sworn in, finds a switch back to more Americans calling the court too conservative.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted September 6-10, 2017, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70 percent cellphone respondents and 30 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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