- 47% trust the judicial branch; previous low was 53%
- 40% job approval of U.S. Supreme Court is tied for record low
- Record-high 42% say Supreme Court is too conservative
Editor's note: On Oct. 6, 2022, this story was updated to revise the 2003 and 2005 data on trust in the judicial branch by political party.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults say they have "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of trust in the judicial branch of the federal government that is headed by the Supreme Court. This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year, and is now the lowest in Gallup's trend by six points. The judicial branch's current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup's trend that began in 1972.
In addition to documenting record-low trust in the federal judiciary, the new Gallup poll also finds a record-tying-low 40% of Americans saying they approve, and a record-high 58% saying they disapprove, of the job the Supreme Court is doing.
Approval of the Supreme Court fell from 49% in July 2021 to 40% last September, just after the court allowed a restrictive Texas abortion law to go into effect and allowed colleges' COVID-19 vaccination requirements to stand. In July 2022, 43% approved after the Court's ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case that struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had limited states' abilities to restrict abortion. The Supreme Court has seen its job approval dip into the low 40s before, including 42% ratings in 2005 and 2016 and 43% in 2013.
The latest results are based on Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 1-16.
A third measure of the high court, from Gallup's June Confidence in Institutions poll, found confidence in the Supreme Court also at a new low. That poll was conducted before the court issued the Dobbs decision but after the leak of a draft opinion in that case signaled that the court was poised to overturn Roe.
By all Gallup measures, then, Americans' opinions of the Supreme Court are the worst they have been in 50 years of polling.
Record High Say Court Is "Too Conservative"
Since 1993, Gallup has asked Americans to say whether they believe the Supreme Court is too liberal, too conservative, or about right. Until now, the plurality has always described the court as "about right." In the current survey, 42% say the court is too conservative -- a new high for that response -- while 38% say it is about right, and 18% say it is too liberal.
Both the "too liberal" and "about right" percentages are at or near their low points in Gallup's trend. At most, 37% have described past courts as being too liberal in 2015 and 2016.
The court has come under criticism for a series of rulings in its last term that aligned with conservative policy preferences, including on abortion, environmental policy, gun laws and the separation of church and state. Six of the nine justices now are conservative-leaning, after former President Donald Trump's three Supreme Court nominees were seated during his tenure.
Democrats' Trust in Judicial Branch Declined by Half in the Past Year
The drop in trust in the federal judicial branch since September 2021 is driven largely by a sharp decline among Democrats. Twenty-five percent of Democrats, down from 50% a year ago, have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the court.
Last year, Republicans and independents had larger losses of faith in the judicial branch than Democrats did. This year, Republican trust is up modestly, while fewer independents trust the judicial branch.
The new poll marks the first time that less than half of Democrats and independents express faith in the judicial branch. Republicans' trust fell below the majority level in 2015 and 2016 -- although not as low as Democrats' trust is today -- after court rulings that legalized same-sex marriage and upheld the Affordable Care Act.
The party groups also diverge in their job approval of the court, with 60% of Republicans, 36% of independents and 23% of Democrats approving. As with trust in the judiciary, Republican approval has increased since last September, while Democrats and independents are now less approving.
However, since the July reading taken immediately after the court's last term ended, Republican approval has declined and Democratic approval has increased.
In describing the high court's ideology, the vast majority of Democrats, 71%, say the Supreme Court is "too conservative," as do 46% of independents. In contrast, the majority of Republicans, 58%, say it is "about right," with more calling it "too liberal" (29%) than too conservative (11%).
A year ago, 66% of Democrats, 37% of independents and 6% of Republicans believed the court was too conservative.
Trust in many U.S. institutions has declined in recent years, but the loss of faith in the Supreme Court is especially notable, given the high levels of trust it has enjoyed historically. Some of the sitting justices have publicly addressed criticisms of the court's rulings in the past year.
Liberal critics of the court have pressured the Biden administration and Congress to take steps to try to move the court in a more left-leaning direction, including by adding more justices to the court or by limiting the tenure of justices or the jurisdiction of the court. President Joe Biden agreed to study the issue, and a bipartisan commission he set up issued a report late last year. The commission declined to make recommendations on these proposed changes, noting the division among its members on many of the proposals they studied.
Biden made his first Supreme Court nomination this year. New Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson replaced another liberal, Stephen Breyer, and that membership change is not expected to diminish the strength of the conservative majority.
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