PRINCETON, NJ -- The U.S. Supreme Court begins its 2010-11 term with 51% of Americans approving of the way it handles its job. This is lower than a year ago, when approval surged to 61%, but is similar to the court's ratings in 2007 and 2008.
The Supreme Court's current approval rating is among the lowest Gallup has recorded for the court over the past decade. Its record-low 42% rating came in June 2005, shortly after the court issued a decision broadening the government's ability to seize private land. Still, the current rating exceeds approval for President Barack Obama (44%) and Congress (18%) in the same poll, a pattern mirrored in Americans' trust level in the three branches of government.
Last year's near-record-high approval of the Supreme Court was driven mainly by Democrats -- reflecting a partisan shift in views toward the court that accompanied the 2009 transition from a Republican to a Democratic president. It may also have been boosted by Democrats' strong support of then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who was seated on the court in the summer of 2009. However, Democrats' approval of the court has since receded some, as has approval among Republicans and independents.
Still, for the second year in a row, Democrats are significantly more positive about the Supreme Court than are Republicans, marking a continued shift from the eight years of the Bush administration.
Obama has appointed two new justices to the Supreme Court. While most observers agree that these appointments have not altered the political balance of the court, in the past year, Americans have become more likely to believe the court is "too liberal." The percentage saying this rose from 21% in 2008 to 28% in 2009, and 32% in a July/August 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll. Republicans are mainly responsible for this increase, and more than half of them (56%) now consider the court too liberal. The plurality of Americans, however, still consider the court to be "about right" ideologically.
A slight majority of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing as it begins the 2010-2011 session, during which it will look at cases dealing with such potentially fiery issues as free speech, information privacy, and illegal immigrant rights. The public's assessment of the court is worse than it was a year ago, but this is consistent with the drops also seen in approval of President Obama (from 54% to 44%) and Congress (from 31% to 18%) over the same period. Americans' satisfaction with the country, more generally, is also down -- by 10 percentage points since last September, from 29% to 19%.
While the sour national mood may have helped to push the court's approval rating back to the 50% level, heightened concern among Republicans that the court is too liberal may also be a factor.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 13-16, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.