After a historic Supreme Court session that included rulings on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, Democrats' approval of the high court has surged to 76% and Republicans' approval has plummeted to a record-low 18%. Americans overall are divided, with 49% approving and 46% disapproving.
The new July 8-12 Gallup poll came after the Supreme Court issued rulings in late June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and upheld federal subsidies for health insurance purchased through government exchanges. Those decisions were hailed by President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders but criticized by Republican leaders. The shift in opinions of the Supreme Court by political party indicates that many Americans are aware of the decisions, as well as the thrust of those decisions politically, and have adjusted their views accordingly.
Specifically, Republicans' approval of the Supreme Court is down 17 percentage points from September 2014 and down a total of 33 points since last summer. Democrats' approval rose from 47% in September to 76% now -- a 29-point gain. Independents' views were largely unchanged, as 46% approved in September 2014 and 49% currently do.
Supreme Court approval among all Americans is up five points since last fall, from 44% to 49%. The current job approval rating is just below the 52% average, which dates back to 2000.
As a result of the partisan changes in opinions of the Supreme Court, Americans' views of it are polarized along party lines more than ever has been the case in Gallup's 15-year trend. The 18% approval among Republicans is the lowest to date, and the 76% approval among Democrats is the highest, albeit by a single percentage point. In 2009, after Obama took office and nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, 75% of Democrats approved.
The previous high point in political party polarization came in 2012, after the first major Supreme Court ruling on the 2010 healthcare law upheld Congress' ability to fine Americans for not having health insurance. After that decision, 68% of Democrats and 29% of Republicans approved, a 39-point party gap compared with the current 58-point gap.
Partisans' Views of Supreme Court Responsive to Rulings
Supreme Court job approval among all Americans has varied between 42% and 62% in Gallup's 15-year trend. But it has varied even more among Republicans (between 18% and 80%) and Democrats (38% and 76%) during this time. That is because partisans, as is the case in the current poll, have frequently re-evaluated their views of the Supreme Court after it issued rulings that touched on topics that greatly divide Republicans and Democrats.
For example, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W. Bush in the dispute with Al Gore over recounts in Florida presidential voting back in 2000, Republican approval increased 20 points while Democratic approval dropped by 28 points.
As previously noted, the initial Supreme Court ruling on the 2010 healthcare law -- issued in 2012 -- led to a much more positive evaluation of the high court from Democrats along with diminished approval among Republicans.
At this time a year ago, a slim majority of Republicans, 51%, approved of the job the Supreme Court was doing, up from 30% in September 2013. That increase may have reflected support for the court's decision in the "Hobby Lobby" case. The Supreme Court ruled that private companies could, because of religious objections, opt out of the ACA requirement that all health plans must cover contraceptive services.
Over the last 15 years, partisans' views have also responded to presidential appointments to the court. As noted, Democrats' views of the high court became more positive after Obama nominated Sotomayor to the court in 2009. And Republican approval of the Supreme Court improved from 44% in June 2005 to 65% in September 2005 after President Bush nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Republicans' approval rose further to 75% by September 2006 after Justice Samuel Alito, a second Bush appointee, joined the court.
Americans -- specifically Democrats and Republicans -- have often changed their opinions of the Supreme Court based on how it has ruled on high-profile decisions. That indicates that many Americans are aware of what the Supreme Court is doing and the public's evaluations have some substance behind them.
Right now, after two major rulings that were consistent with Democrats' policy preferences, Republicans' and Democrats' views of the Supreme Court are more disparate than at any time in the past 15 years. A key question is how long those highly polarized views might persist. Clearly they could shift if the Supreme Court issues another major ruling on a politically divisive issue that pleases Republicans, which in the next term could be invalidating the use of race as a factor in college admissions. More generally, though, the evidence from the trends suggests the major partisan shifts do not persist long, usually diminishing to some degree in the subsequent poll, and possibly showing more substantial change if there is an intervening major Supreme Court event that favors one group of partisans over another.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8-12, 2015, with a random sample of 1,009 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.