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Supreme Court Approval Holds at Record Low

Supreme Court Approval Holds at Record Low

Story Highlights

  • 40% approve of U.S. Supreme Court
  • Last four measures of Supreme Court approval have been between 40% and 43%
  • Opinions of Roberts more positive than negative; public divided on Thomas

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court’s eventful 2022-2023 term appears to have had no effect on Americans’ overall opinion of the high court, with its 40% approval rating the same as Gallup found last September, just before the start of the term. The current rating ties the court’s record-low job score first recorded in September 2021, which ticked up to 43% in July 2022 before dropping back to 40%.


The latest results are based on a July 3-27 Gallup poll, conducted in the weeks after the high court finished its work for this term before going on summer recess.

During the term, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges could not use race as a factor in deciding admissions; permitted business owners to refuse to work with lesbian and gay customers on free speech grounds; and struck down President Joe Biden’s student-loan debt-forgiveness plan. In addition to those conservative-leaning decisions, the court rejected some state legislatures’ contention that courts had no role in legislative districting matters, and it invalidated Alabama's congressional district map under the Voting Rights Act.

From 2017 to mid-2021, the court’s approval rating was 49% or higher, but its rating plunged to 40% in September 2021 after it allowed a restrictive Texas abortion law to stand. That ruling was a precursor to its June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade; now, more than a dozen states have near-total bans on abortions.

Gallup first asked Americans to rate the job the Supreme Court was doing in September 2000. At that point, 62% approved, which still stands (along with a June 2001 rating) as the highest measured to date. On average, 51% have approved of the Supreme Court over the past 23 years.

Republicans Praise High Court

As on many opinion measures, ratings of the Supreme Court differ starkly by political party. Currently, 62% of Republicans versus 17% of Democrats approve of the job the court is doing, as do 41% of independents.

The 45-percentage-point party gap is the third largest Gallup has measured. It trails the 61-point gap (74% approval among Republicans, 13% among Democrats) measured a year ago after the court overturned Roe, and a 58-point gap in 2015 (76% Democrats, 18% Republicans) after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and upheld a challenge to President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

In three Gallup ratings of the court since the Dobbs ruling, no less than 60% of Republicans and no more than 23% of Democrats have approved of the Supreme Court. In the four pre-Dobbs polls conducted in 2020 and 2021, there was little partisan difference in views of the court.


Opinions of Roberts Have Improved, While Opinions of Thomas Have Worsened

In addition to measuring support for the Supreme Court generally, the latest poll asked Americans whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member on the court.

Currently, 43% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Roberts and 30% an unfavorable one, with 27% not having an opinion either way. Americans’ views of Thomas are divided, with 39% viewing him positively, 42% negatively and 19% with no opinion.

It has been eight years since Gallup last measured opinions of Roberts and 18 years for Thomas. Opinions of each justice have changed significantly since those prior measurements.

The prior reading on Roberts was in July 2015, after the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and Obamacare. At that time, 44% of Americans had no opinion of him, but the remainder were closely split -- 29% favorable and 27% unfavorable. Since then, favorable opinions of Roberts have increased by 14 points. At the same time, the percentage having an unfavorable view of Roberts has held steady, while fewer Americans do not rate him (27%).

Roberts’ highest favorable rating was 50% in September 2005, after then-president George W. Bush nominated him as chief justice to the Supreme Court.


Gallup’s last measurement of Thomas, in 2005, was his best to date, with roughly twice as many Americans having a favorable (44%) as unfavorable (23%) opinion of him. A 1992 poll, conducted about six months after he was seated on the court, and a 2000 survey after the Supreme Court decided the dispute over that year’s presidential election also found Americans holding generally positive views of Thomas. But Americans were divided in their views of him in a 1995 survey.


Thomas has recently been in the news over ethical questions surrounding trips and other gifts he received from a wealthy conservative businessman, and for his wife’s political activism.

Opinions of both Roberts and Thomas differ sharply by political party. Six in 10 Republicans have a favorable opinion of Roberts, while 52% of Democrats have a negative one. Republicans are slightly more positive toward Thomas -- with a 67% favorable rating -- while Democrats are much more critical of him, with 76% viewing him unfavorably.

Republicans’ views of Thomas have changed little since the prior measurement in 2005, while both independents and Democrats are more negative toward him. Partisans’ opinions of Roberts have flipped since 2015, with Republicans now viewing him favorably, and Democrats, unfavorably.


Bottom Line

Americans continue to be critical of the Supreme Court, largely because of strongly negative views from Democrats and more negative than positive opinions from independents, which offset Republicans’ generally positive opinions.

The 6-3 conservative majority has been criticized for upending prior court precedents on voting rights, environmental regulations, abortion and affirmative action. While those rulings have pleased Republicans, they have left the court with the lowest sustained approval ratings Gallup has measured for it. Additionally, a minority of Americans, 47%, last fall expressed trust in the judicial branch of the federal government, a record low that came after decades when trust in the high court never fell below 60%.

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