Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Shifting Views of Supreme Court’s Ideology among Liberals, Conservatives

Most Liberal Democrats Now View Court as Conservative

As Many Now Call the Supreme Court ‘Conservative’ as ‘Liberal’

Overall views of the U.S. Supreme Court – and its ideology – have changed only modestly since last measured in April before the court’s end-of-term decisions, including the Hobby Lobby ruling that limits the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.

But among liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans there have been sizable changes in opinions of the court; more liberals now view the Supreme Court as conservative – and fewer conservatives view it as liberal – than did so just a few months ago.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 8-14 among 1,805 adults, finds that as many Americans call the court liberal (26%) as say it is conservative (27%). More (38%) say the current Supreme Court is “middle of the road.”

Before the recent rulings, somewhat more viewed the court as liberal (31%) than conservative (25%), with 35% viewing it as middle of the road.

Liberal Democrats are much more likely to see the court as conservative after this term’s rulings; fully 60% now say this, compared to less than half in April (47%). Today, liberal Democrats are nearly twice as likely as the public overall to say the court is conservative.

By contrast, there has been an 11 percentage point decline in the share of conservative Republicans who view the Supreme Court as liberal (from 53% in April to 42% currently). Today, conservative Republicans are as likely to say the court is middle of the road (44%) as to say it is liberal (42%). In April, more conservative Republicans saw it as liberal (53% vs. 33% middle of the road).

Fewer Conservative Republicans See Court as Liberal; More Liberal Democrats View Court as Conservative

The balance of opinion about the court’s ideology also has shifted among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party. Today, about half (51%) view the court as middle of the road; in April, most Tea Party Republicans described the court’s ideology as liberal (56%).

College graduates remain more likely than those with less education to view the Supreme Court as conservative; 36% of those with college degrees say this, compared with about a quarter of those with some college or less.

Supreme Court Favorability

Court Favorability Ticks Back Down

The survey finds that 52% of Americans now view the nation’s highest court favorably, while 38% have an unfavorable opinion. Ratings of the court have edged lower since April (from 56% favorable).

Current ratings are mired near all-time lows (reached a year ago) as the court’s image has declined significantly over the past several years. In January 2007, 72% held a positive view of the court.

Supreme Court Favorability Ticks Downward Among Democrats

The court’s favorability decline since April has been driven by a shift in views among Democrats. Roughly half of Democrats (52%) view the Supreme Court favorably, down from 63% in April. There has been little movement in favorability ratings among Republicans or independents.

Fewer than Half of Liberal Democrats View Supreme Court Favorably

Positive views of the court among liberal Democrats have dropped 13 points since April; fewer than half (44%) now hold a favorable view of the court. Conservative and moderate Democrats are more likely than liberal Democrats to view the court favorably, but their favorable rating also has dropped – down 10 points since April.

While little changed over the past three months, Republicans’ views of the court are much more positive today than at this point two years ago, following the 5-4 decision that upheld core components of the Affordable Care Act. 

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information