There was time when a majority of Americans were confident in their Supreme Court, but those positive feelings have been eroding in the last quarter of a century so that just 30% now say they have confidence in the institution, according to a Gallup poll.
The poll, released Monday, had good news and bad news for the high court, a unique institution that serves as a check and balance in the United States. People have more confidence in the court than in any other arm of government, but that may not be saying that much when confidence in the presidency stands at 29% and in the Congress at 7%.
Judges on the Supreme Court are appointed for life and, unlike members of Congress or the president, do not have go through the rigors of elections. But as national attitudes change on controversial issues including abortion, racial segregation and same-sex marriage, so too does the legal system’s response. The Supreme Court may not follow polls, but changing attitudes can have an impact.
Further, when the high court rules on key issues it creates space for more politics. For example, the tough decisions on its last day -- on Hobby Lobby’s right to deny women contraception and limiting the ability of unions to collect fees from reluctant public employees -- are already echoing through the political sphere.
While bemoaning the Hobby Lobby ruling, top Democrats have already pushed it into the arms of the “GOP’s war on women,” a frequent meme by Democrats. Both conservatives, who generally support the court’s rulings in both cases, and liberals are sure to use the issues when raising money for this year's congressional elections and the 2016 presidential cycle.
The Gallup poll is based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,027 adults conducted from June 5 to June 8 . It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Since 1991, the first year Gallup began asking regularly about all three branches of government, the Supreme Court and the presidency have alternated as the most trusted branch, while Congress has been the laggard.
The presidency does have some advantages. The confidence level tends to go up in times of attack and war. A booming economy can also bring presidential acclaim, according to the polls. Still, President Obama has been hurt by a weak economy, and his 29% rating is the lowest for him. President Clinton was at 53% in year six of his tenure while President George W. Bush was at 33%. Both of those presidents went on to lose support in the last two years, with Bush hitting 26% when he left the White House.
The high point for confidence in the Supreme Court was 56%, reached in 1985 and 1988. From 1973 to 2006, the court had confidence ratings in the 40s and 50s. It began to fall thereafter, following a general unhappiness with government institutions, according to the poll.
According to other polls, the Hobby Lobby ruling plays into the gender advantage the Democratic Party enjoys.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests that the “war on women” thread is resonating, with Obama’s support among women jumping 11 percentage points from March to April. The shift was even more robust among women between the ages of 18 and 49, a key demographic.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 50% of women approve of the job Obama is doing compared with 42% of men. Since January, the president’s approval rating has seen a slight uptick among women while men’s opinion of him has been in decline.
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