American opinion on the Supreme Court is divided as a new term begins

Linley SandersData Journalist
October 03, 2022, 1:28 PM GMT+0

As the next Supreme Court term begins, American opinion of the Court and its Justices appears to have recovered a bit from the dissatisfaction expressed after the Court’s June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had established abortion as a constitutional right.

Just about as many Americans approve (41%) as disapprove (43%) of how the Court is handling its job, according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll. That's a more positive national attitude toward the Court than at the time of the June ruling when 49% of Americans disapproved of the Court while 39% approved.

Throughout the Biden presidency, the Supreme Court has had a 6-3 conservative majority. It fared best in public opinion at the start of Biden's administration, as it rejected multiple attempts to overturn the 2020 elections. At that time, 52% of Democrats approved of how the Court was handling its job, compared to 38% of Republicans. Now, 32% of Democrats approve of the Court, while 63% of Republicans approve.

In early September, 59% of women disapproved of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to an Economist/YouGov Poll at the time; just 29% approved. Men approved by 48% to 42%. Men and women have different views about the Supreme Court, and there are large differences between the genders within each major party and among Independents. Women are 13 percentage points more likely than men to call abortion a "very important" issue.

Many Americans regard the Court as conservative: 43% say it is, more than the combined share who say it is liberal (10%) or moderate (27%). Most Republicans call themselves conservatives, but more than half of them say the Court is not. Nearly two in five Republicans (38%) call the Court moderate in ideology, while 14% of Republicans think the Supreme Court is liberal.

The individual Justices get mixed reviews from Americans, with Democrats and Republicans having different favorites corresponding to the party of the president who appointed the Justice. The best-liked Justices include women appointed by Democratic presidents, along with Republicans Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Sonia Sotomayor received the highest favorable ratings from Democrats, while Republicans give three Republican president-appointed Justices their highest marks: Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh. All three of these Justices receive at least about twice as many negative ratings as positive ones from Democrats.

Chief Justice John Roberts' standing with Democrats and Republicans has fluctuated as he has sometimes sided with Democratic goals (preserving the Affordable Care Act) and sometimes with conservative ones (promoting gun rights). Today, opinion of him is consistent with a Justice appointed by a Republican President. More Republicans give Roberts a favorable rating than an unfavorable one, while Democrats, by a narrower margin, are unfavorable toward him.

– Carl Bialik, Taylor Orth, and Oana Dumitru contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on September 24 - 27, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (David)