Approval of Supreme Court justices has risen after Breyer's retirement announcement

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
February 03, 2022, 11:07 PM GMT+0

Americans’ opinions of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer have become more favorable following his recent retirement announcement. Most people with an opinion on the matter, especially Democrats, tend to say his decision to retire was a good thing, and also approve of Biden’s decision to announce a replacement by the end of February. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most Americans say that diversity, both in terms of race and gender, are important on the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans support Biden’s decision to nominate a Black woman as the next justice.

In previous Economist/YouGov Polls, Breyer was often the least well-known justice, even though he is one of the longest-serving. With his retirement announcement, he changed that. More than half of Americans now have an opinion of him, and it is a favorable one. Breyer has always been more liked than disliked; this week, his favorable rating rose 7 points while his unfavorable rating rose 3 points.

Breyer’s retirement appears to have raised the profile of most of the Court’s members. The Court itself is equally liked and disliked, with 56% of Republicans approving of how the Supreme Court is handling its job, and half of Democrats disapproving. But nearly every justice receives a positive rating from the public. The exceptions are the last two Supreme Court appointments made by President Donald Trump. As many Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Amy Coney Barrett as have a favorable opinion, while Americans with negative views of Brett Kavanaugh outnumber the positive ones, 36% to 30%.

By a margin of two to one, Americans approve of Biden’s plan to nominate a Black woman to the Court. Support is especially high among Black Americans and women. Republicans disapprove by 48% to 27%. Biden has said that he plans to announce a Supreme Court nominee by the end of February, which many say is the right amount of time to wait. One in three Republicans say this is too soon, while one in 20 Democrats say this is too long to wait.

Diversity among the justices (particularly racial diversity) is generally regarded by Americans as a good thing. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to reject the importance of diversity in all areas, including ideology and religion.

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between January 29 - February 1, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample.

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