Republicans sour on Congress and doubt the Supreme Court, too

February 01, 2021, 5:30 PM GMT+0

President Donald Trump has left the White House, but his popularity with Republicans has affected GOP perceptions of the other two branches of government. Republican opinions of both the legislative and judicial branches have declined in the last week as the former president’s second impeachment trial moved to the newly-Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Joe Biden was officially sworn into office.

Democrats now control both Houses of Congress even though the GOP gained House seats in the last election. But Democrats hold Senate control by the narrowest of margins, 50 seats plus Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie breaking vote. Still, Democratic approval of Congress rose 14 points in the last week, while Republican disapproval rose from 67% to 71%.

Despite the gains among Democrats, only one in five Americans (21%) overall approve of how Congress is handling its job. It is often the most-disliked branch. In most past polls, the public have indicated they believe Congress accomplishes little.

This week, in addition to most Republicans disapproving of Congress (71%), they even dislike their party’s Senate leadership. Only 24% of Republicans approve of the way Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is handling his job, down eight points in the last week. Democrats are happy with their leadership: 75% of Democrats approve of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s handling of the Speaker’s job, while by 57% to 16% they also approve of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The House of Representatives impeached President Trump for a second time over “inciting violence” at the US Capitol on January 6. The Senate is now expected to conduct a trial on impeachment. While a plurality of Americans support the impeachment (48%) and conviction (47%) of former President Trump, that support is only minimally greater than was the support for impeachment and removal during the Trump’s first impeachment. In January 2020, 45% of Americans supported impeachment and 43% wanted the Senate to remove him from office.

At no point in the months-long court battles over charges of election fraud did the Supreme Court do what President Trump hoped they might: change the outcome in his favor. After the Biden inauguration, some Republicans changed their view of the Court. Last week, Republicans were more positive (48%) than negative (38%) about the Court. This week, they are closely divided (38% approve, 41% oppose). Democrats, on the other hand, are now two to one positive (52% approve, 27% oppose).

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, with six of its current members appointed by Republican presidents, but most Americans don’t think of the Court as conservative. That’s especially true of those who identify as conservatives themselves. Nearly a third overall (31%) say the Court is conservative or very conservative, but only 22% of conservatives think that. More conservatives (39%) believe the Court is moderate in its ideology, while one in five (21%) think it is very liberal or liberal.

Most liberals (57%) view the Supreme Court as conservative. Only moderates see the Court as like themselves ideologically, and even then, only with a plurality of 39%.

Related: How elections change Americans’ economic outlooks

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 24 - 26, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.7% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty