- 42% job approval ties low from June 2005
- Approval has been below majority level since 2010
- Record party gap in approval from last summer has narrowed
PRINCETON, N.J. -- The U.S. Supreme Court's 42% job approval rating is down slightly from September and matches the low point in Gallup's 16-year trend, recorded in June 2005. The Supreme Court's approval ratings have not been above 50% since September 2010.
The latest results are from a July 13-17 Gallup poll. Although the current approval rating ties the historical low, it is not a major departure from updates over the last five years, when approval has ranged between 43% and 49% -- including 45% when Gallup last measured it, in September 2015.
The Supreme Court recently concluded its 2015-2016 term, with eight justices serving since the death of Antonin Scalia in February and no progress made toward confirming Barack Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy. As a result, the shorthanded court deadlocked on several potentially important decisions, upholding previous lower court rulings. One of the more significant decisions of the term was the court's ruling allowing colleges to continue to consider an applicant's racial or ethnic background as a factor in admissions decisions. Americans widely disapproved of that decision.
The prior low Supreme Court job approval rating came in June 2005, just after a court decision to permit governments to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes. Approval of the Supreme Court fell to 42% immediately after that decision was announced, from 51% in the prior measurement. That proved to be a short-term decline, however, with approval back to 56% in Gallup's next update in September 2005.
Although the current approval rating ties the previous low, the 52% of Americans now disapproving of the Supreme Court is the highest in the trend. The prior high disapproval rating was 50% last September.
Democrats Still More Likely Than Republicans to Approve; Party Gap Narrows
Just after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and rejected a second major legal challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act last summer, Democrats' (76%) and Republicans' (18%) approval ratings of the court were the most polarized Gallup had ever measured. Today, Democrats remain significantly more likely to approve, 60% to 32%, but the party gap in approval ratings has narrowed, from 58 percentage points to 28 points.
The record party polarization last summer was clearly a response to those two politically charged rulings, both of which were aligned with Democratic rather than Republican policy preferences on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act. However, over time, the impact of those decisions on partisans' views of the Supreme Court has likely diminished. Republicans' approval has returned to its fall 2014 level, while Democrats' approval remains above where it was at that time.
Independents' approval of the court today is 38%, still down significantly from 46% in the fall of 2014, and the lowest approval rating among this group in Gallup's trend. This helps account for the all-time low Supreme Court approval rating among all Americans.
During the decade of the 2000s, a majority of Americans typically approved of the job the Supreme Court was doing, with the most notable exception occurring in 2005. That dip was short-lived, and Americans' positivity toward the Supreme Court was quickly restored.
However, in the past six years, Supreme Court job approval has yet to return to the majority level and is now tied for the low point in Gallup's trend. While Americans' views of the Supreme Court are often influenced by the decisions it issues, the current depressed ratings are likely also caused by Americans' long-standing dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the country, their frustrations with the government and diminished confidence in U.S. institutions more generally.
Gallup has documented that Americans' more basic trust in government institutions has eroded in recent years, and the Supreme Court, often the most popular and trusted of the three branches of the federal government, has not been immune.
Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 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% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% 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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