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Poll: Confidence in Supreme Court has collapsed since conservatives took control

·West Coast Correspondent
·5 min read
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A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that Americans’ confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court has collapsed over the last 20 months — a period that began with former President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans installing a 6-3 conservative majority ahead of the 2020 election and culminated last week with the leak of a draft opinion signaling that five GOP-appointed justices plan to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The last time Yahoo News/YouGov asked about confidence in the court was in September 2020, a few days after liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and a few days before Trump nominated conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to replace her.

Back then, 70% of registered voters said they had either “some” (50%) or “a lot” (20%) of confidence in the court, and 30% said they had either “a little” (23%) or “none” (7%).

A pro-abortion-rights activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
A pro-abortion-rights activist holds up a sign during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3 in response to the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But the new survey of 1,577 U.S. adults, which was conducted immediately after the leak, found that registered voters have swung from mostly having confidence in the Supreme Court — by a colossal 40-point margin — to being evenly split on the question.

Today, just half of voters still express some (37%) or a lot (14%) of confidence in the court, while the other half now expresses either a little (24%) or none (26%).

And among all Americans — as opposed to just registered voters — most (53%) now say they have either no confidence in the Supreme Court (28%) or only a little (25%).

Views on key aspects of American life rarely shift that suddenly. The question is why.

On May 5, Chief Justice John Roberts blasted the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, calling it “absolutely appalling” and saying he hopes “one bad apple” will not change “people’s perception” of the nation’s highest court. Many Republican politicians have also framed the breach of protocol — rather than the momentous opinion it revealed, or the overall direction of the court — as a threat that could “severely damage” the institution. Roberts has ordered the court’s marshal, Col. Gail A. Curley, to investigate what happened.

Judge Samuel Alito in 2006.
Judge Samuel Alito in 2006 before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. (Susan Walsh/AP)

But the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that the leak itself may not be the Supreme Court’s main problem. For starters, Americans are divided over whether the leak is a “good thing” (30%), a “bad thing” (37%) or something they’re not sure about (33%). Second, politics is clearly playing a part here. Driven by an assumption that the leaker was “pro-choice” (38%) rather than “pro-life” (20%) — an assumption that has yet to be confirmed — far more Republicans consider the leak bad (59%) than good (19%), and far more Democrats consider it good (50%) than bad (20%).

The ideological shift of the Supreme Court may be the bigger issue. In September 2020, 29% of registered voters saw the court as either “conservative” (25%) or “very conservative” (4%). Today, that combined number is 44%, with nearly six times as many voters as before saying “very conservative” (22%). Among registered voters who are Democrats, the share who say “conservative” or “very conservative” has shot up from 42% to 58%; among independents, it has jumped from 29% to 41%; and even among Republicans it has risen from 16% to 31%. The overall share of registered voters who describe the court as “moderate” has fallen nearly 10 points over the same period, to 30%.

Abortion rights advocates outside the Supreme Court hold signs, one of which reads: This court does not care about your rights.
Abortion rights advocates outside the Supreme Court on Sunday. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP)

At the same time, confidence in the Supreme Court has taken a hit across the board, declining 25 points among Democrats (to 39%), 20 points among independents (to 48%) and 11 points among Republicans (to 71%). A full three-quarters of registered voters (74%) now think the court has become “too politicized” (up from 67% in September 2020), with roughly equal increases in perceptions of politicization among Democrats (up from 69% to 75%), independents (up from 70% to 76%) and Republicans (up from 65% to 73%).

It isn’t hard to explain why Democrats (78% of whom believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases) and independents (54% of whom believe the same) have turned against the court; they are by and large less conservative than the justices who now control it. That also explains why the number of Democrats (65%) and independents (49%) who disapprove of the job the court is doing has doubled since September 2020.

But here’s the thing: The number of Republicans who disapprove of the job the Supreme Court is doing has jumped as well, from just 17% then to 29% today. Incidentally, 31% of Republicans also believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases — suggesting that the current majority of justices may be too conservative for them too.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court after the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked.
Protesters outside the Supreme Court on May 2. (Anna Johnson/AP)

Likewise, more Americans say they view the four justices who have reportedly voted against overturning Roe v. Wade favorably than unfavorably: Justice Sonia Sotomayor (37% favorable vs. 27% favorable); Justice Elena Kagan (32% favorable vs. 23% unfavorable); Justice Stephen Breyer (33% favorable vs. 22% unfavorable); and Chief Justice Roberts (32% favorable to 28% unfavorable). In contrast, all five of the conservative justices who have reportedly voted to overturn Roe are viewed more unfavorably than favorably.

So while politicization is a problem that everyone seems to recognize, and bemoan, declining confidence in the court probably has less to do with protocol than policy. A growing number of Americans — Democrats, independents and even some Republicans — disapprove of the Supreme Court for the simple reason that they disagree with its new direction.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,577 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 3 to 6, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.