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Plurality Says High Court Ideological Makeup 'About Right'

Plurality Says High Court Ideological Makeup 'About Right'

Story Highlights

  • 42% of Americans say the U.S. Supreme Court's ideology is well-balanced
  • 32% say the court is too conservative, while 23% say it is too liberal
  • Most Democrats (58%) say the high court is too conservative

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A plurality of Americans (42%) say the ideological makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is "about right," while about one in three (32%) say the high court is "too conservative." Twenty-three percent say the Supreme Court is "too liberal."

Perceptions of the U.S. Supreme Court's Ideology, by Party Group
In general, do you think the current Supreme Court is too liberal, too conservative or just about right?
Too liberal Too conservative About right
% % %
National adults 23 32 42
Republicans 44 3 48
Independents 16 32 48
Democrats 12 58 28
Gallup, Aug. 31-Sept. 13, 2020

Gallup recorded these findings in its annual Governance poll, conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 13. The polling period concluded just days before the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opening a Supreme Court seat that President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans will attempt to fill before the presidential election. If they succeed in placing a sixth conservative-leaning justice on the nine-member court, they will be doing so at a rare time when the Supreme Court's job approval rating shows a very small partisan divide.

With a 5-4 conservative advantage in place before Ginsburg's passing, a majority of Democrats (58%) say the court is too conservative. Republicans, meanwhile, are about evenly split between those who say the court is too liberal (44%) and those saying its ideological makeup is about right (48%). Political independents are most likely to say the ideological leaning of the court is balanced (48%), though one in three (32%) say it is too conservative.

Gallup has previously noted that "shifts in Americans' perceptions of the ideological leaning of the court suggest these views are likely influenced by the current president's political party and the justices they appoint." In recent years, "Republicans have become increasingly satisfied with the court," as Trump has nominated two justices whom the Senate confirmed -- and could soon see a third justice confirmed to the bench. The net "too conservative" score (the percentage saying "too conservative" minus the percentage "too liberal") has averaged +10 under Republican President Trump, nearly matching the -11 under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Over time, Americans have shifted between being more likely to say the Supreme Court is too conservative and more likely to say it is too liberal -- though, all the while, they have consistently been most likely to say the court's makeup is about right.

Line graph. Americans' views of the ideology of the U.S. Supreme Court. 42% of Americans said the ideology of the court was "about right" before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with 32% saying it was too conservative and 23% viewing it as too liberal.

Approval of the Supreme Court Remains Less Polarized Than Normal

After the court's last term ended with an ideological mix of rulings, Gallup recorded the closest partisan ratings for the court in its trend since 2000. This rare parity in approval ratings of the court largely remains intact two months later, with 57% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats approving of the Supreme Court.

Line graph. Americans' approval of the Supreme Court, by political affiliation. 57% of Republicans approve of the court in September 2020, as do 54% of independents and 49% of Democrats.

The court's overall rating of 53% is down slightly from 58% in July but remains above the majority level, something it did not do between 2011 and 2017.

Bottom Line

Democrats' and Republicans' similar ratings of the Supreme Court may be short-lived, depending on the outcome of Trump's attempt to fill Ginsburg's seat. If Trump's nominee is confirmed, the president will have picked one-third of the court's justices. For Democrats, the combined loss of a celebrated justice and her replacement by a Trump appointee could sour their view of the judicial branch. At the same time, Republicans may again feel more favorably toward the court. But long-term, partisans' views will be influenced more by the court's decisions, something even the most seasoned court observers can't always predict.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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