New Marquette Law School national survey finds four-point increase in overall public approval of U.S. Supreme Court’s performance and plurality support of five recent major decisions
July 26, 2023
Please note: Complete Poll results and methodology information can be found online at law.marquette.edu/poll
MILWAUKEE – A new Marquette Law School Poll national survey finds that 45% of adults approve of the job the U.S. Supreme Court is doing and 55% disapprove. While approval remains below disapproval, this is a 4-percentage point increase in approval since May and the second highest rating since March 2022, when approval stood at 54%. The trend in approval since 2020 is shown in Table 1. (All results in the tables are stated as percentages; the precise wording of the questions can be found in the online link noted above.) For each of five June 2023 decisions inquired about, a plurality of people with an opinion favored the Court’s ruling, as discussed after the first two tables.
Approval among Republicans rose by 12 percentage points, to 71% in July, up from 59% in May. Approval among independents rose 2 percentage points, while among Democrats it declined 2 percentage points from May to July. Approval of the Court by party identification is shown in Table 2 for July and for May.
- Each of five decisions released in June 2023 and included in the survey found a plurality of support, with at least two-thirds awareness in cases involving race in college admissions, student-loan forgiveness, and religious beliefs and free speech:
- Half of all respondents, 50%, favored the Court’s decision that colleges cannot use race as one of several factors in deciding which applicants to admit, while 37% favored the decision against President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and 35% favored the decision that a business owner’s religious beliefs or free speech rights can justify refusing some services to gay people. About a third of those surveyed had not heard enough to weigh in on the decisions.
- Cases involving the need for employers to accommodate religious practices and Alabama’s congressional map elicited awareness of only about one-third of respondents:
- A ruling that federal civil rights law requires an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious practice was favored by 27%, but 63% had not heard enough to have an opinion. Similarly, 24% favored the ruling that Alabama, in drawing a congressional districting map, had diluted the power of Black voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but 66% had not heard enough.
The latest Marquette Law School Poll’s national Supreme Court survey was conducted July 7-12, 2023. The survey interviewed 1,005 adults nationwide and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
Confidence in the Court as an institution rose in July, with 31% of respondents saying they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the Court, an increase from May when 25% said the same. The full trend is shown in Table 3.
Confidence in Congress and in the presidency also increased from May to July, though by less than confidence in the Court. In July, 14% said they had a great deal or a lot of confidence in Congress, up from 11% in May. Those saying the same about the presidency were 28% in July, compared to 25% in May. These trends are shown in Table 4 and Table 5.
The Department of Justice has become the subject of debate over its handling of a number of prosecutions and investigations in recent years. Overall, 25% say they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the DOJ, while 34% say they have some confidence, with a substantial 41% saying they have little or no confidence.
Partisans are substantially divided concerning the Department of Justice, with a majority of Republicans expressing little or no confidence. Only 16% of Democrats say the same. These differences are shown in Table 6.
Confidence in the national news media remains at low levels, with 13% expressing a great deal or a lot of confidence, 27% saying they have some confidence, and a majority, 60%, saying they have little or no confidence. The partisan divisions are also sharp, as shown in Table 7.
Attention to news concerning the Supreme Court varies considerably across topics, as shown in Table 8. Two decisions, concerning student-loan forgiveness and concerning the use of race in college admissions, drew high levels of attention, with more than half of respondents saying they heard or read a lot about these topics. In contrast, fewer than 20% said they had heard or read a lot about decisions involving congressional districting in Alabama or the power of state legislatures to set rules for federal elections. A similarly low percentage, 15%, heard a lot about Justice Samuel Alito’s financial disclosure reports. For comparison, in May, about twice as many, 33%, had heard a lot about Justice Clarence Thomas’ financial disclosure reports.
Awareness of the makeup of the Court, in terms of which party’s presidents have appointed a majority of justices, rose in July, with 36% saying Republican presidents had definitely appointed a majority of justices, 42% saying Republican presidents had probably done so, and 22% believing a majority had definitely or probably been appointed by Democrats. The percentage correctly saying Republicans appointed a majority has generally increased since 2019, though it ebbs and flows, as shown in Table 9.
While many people lack information about individual Court decisions, a plurality favor each of five particular decisions that were handed down in June and inquired about in the survey. The percentage favoring and opposing each decision varies, as does the degree of awareness, as shown in Table 10.
Respondents were asked if they thought that the Court, over the past 15 years or so, had expanded or reduced the rights protected for each of several groups. Those responses are shown in Table 11. Respondents perceive an increase in rights protected for LGBTQ people and for religious people and organizations, while there is a nearly even split in seeing increased or reduced rights for gun owners and voting rights for minority groups. Rights of those seeking an abortion are seen by a large majority as having been reduced.
Respondents were asked about past decisions concerning abortion, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination protection for gay and transgender employees. Those results are shown in Table 12.
Public perception of the ideology of the U.S. Supreme Court has shifted in a conservative direction since 2019, as shown in Table 13. In September 2019, 38% of the public saw the Court as very or somewhat conservative. In the current poll, 62% see the Court that way. Over this same period, the percent saying the Court is moderate has declined from 50% to 28%.
Since 2019 there has been an increase in the percentage of the public who think that the justices’ decisions are motivated mainly by politics, rising from 35% in 2019 to 58% in July 2023, with a sharp upturn since the end of 2021. The full trend is shown in Table 14.
Recent news concerning the justices’ financial disclosures and related matters have raised attention to the ethical standards of the Court. The public remains evenly divided in its perceptions of the honesty and ethical standards of the justices, with about a third of the public rating the justices as having very high or high honesty and ethical standards, a third rating the justices as average in this regard, and a third saying the justices have low or very low standards. The percentage rating the justices’ standards as very high or high increased from about a quarter in May. Table 15 shows the results for May and for July.
Respondents were also asked about the honesty and ethical standards of judges in their state, lawyers, journalists, and people in cable TV news. Those results for the July poll are shown in Table 16.
About the Marquette Law School Poll
The survey was conducted July 7-12, 2023, interviewing 1,005 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points. Interviews were conducted using the SSRS Opinion Panel, a national probability sample with interviews conducted online. The detailed methodology statement, survey instrument, topline results, and crosstabs for this release are available on the Marquette Law Poll website. Some items from this survey are held for later release.
Wording of questions about future and past Supreme Court decisions: These items do not attempt to exactly frame the particular issues in specific cases but rather address the topic in more general terms.
The wording of questions about cases decided in June includes:
Do you favor or oppose the following recent Supreme Court decisions, or haven’t you heard enough about this to have an opinion?
- Ruled that colleges cannot use race as one of several factors in deciding which applicants to admit.
- Ruled that a business owner’s religious beliefs or free speech rights can justify refusing some services to gay people.
- Ruled that the Biden administration exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress to alter loan conditions, thus striking down the student loan forgiveness policy.
- Ruled that Alabama, in drawing a congressional districting map, diluted the power of Black voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Ruled that federal civil rights law requires an employer to accommodate an employee’s religious practice unless it can show that doing so would result in substantial increased costs to the employer.
The wording of questions about previous decisions include:
Opinion of Dobbs decisions, striking down Roe v. Wade
- In 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade, thus striking down the 1973 decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. How much do you favor or oppose this decision?
Opinion of same-sex marriage decision:
- In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. How much do you favor or oppose this decision?
Opinion on anti-discrimination law protecting gay and transgender employees
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. How much do you favor or oppose this decision?
About Kevin Conway
Kevin is the associate director for university communication in the Office of University Relations. Contact Kevin at (414) 288-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.