How the public sees the U.S. Supreme Court

By: - October 21, 2019 4:10 pm

Mike Gousha and Charles Franklin discuss a Marquette Law School poll. (Picture by Marquette Wire)

On Monday, the Marquette Law School Poll, in its first nationwide poll, explored opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court and public trust in government institutions.

(Its closely watched Wisconsin poll will still be released on Wednesday, Oct. 23.) 

The focus of the poll released Oct. 21 was public opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, and whether the public trusts it as an institution.

There has been high profile contention or accusations over recent nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, it revolved around the nomination of Merrick Garland, which Republicans refused to act upon. And under President Donald Trump there was Democratic opposition to Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed in April 2017, being appointed when Garland has been ignored. And women accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual harassment are still swirling around after his confirmation in October 2018.

Yet this poll showed that most respondents have more confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court than in other branches of the federal government.

When asked “Of the three branches of U.S. government, which one do you trust the most?” 57% chose the judicial branch, while 22% said the legislative branch and 21% said the executive branch. And only 9% see the court as being extremely liberal or conservative. 

However, conservatives do have a more positive view of the current court and its decision than liberals, although that varies by topic. For example, liberals support gay rights and conservatives support allowing taxpayer money to support students in religious private schools.

Most people surveyed do not want to see more justices on the Supreme Court, but 72% would like to see a limit opposed on how long justices may serve. (Currently, U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life tenure.)

How much weight should be put on these opinions, however, is questionable as the public knowledge of the court is low. 

Only 34 percent of those polled offered an opinion on at least five of the nine justices, and 28 percent had no opinion on any of them,” according to a release from Marquette on the findings. And when asked if the next appointment to the Supreme Court is important, less than half (47%) said yes.

The more attention respondents said they pay to politics, the more likely they were to find the next appointment very important.

The national survey was conducted Sept. 3-13, 2019, interviewing 1,423 adults nationwide. (The statistical margin of error is +/-3.6 percentage points.)  

The regular Wisconsin poll will drop at 1:15 pm on Wednesday after the law school’s  usual “On the Issues” program, where poll director Charles Franklin reveals and discusses the results, says Kevin Conway, the associate director of University Communications at Marquette University.

Conway adds that Wednesday’s poll will be the first one to ask questions about how Wisconsinites feel about impeachment.

Complete poll results and methodology information for the nationwide poll can be found online. Topline results are also online.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.