Election cases hurt the Supreme Court’s image among Republicans

December 18, 2020, 8:00 PM UTC

On Friday, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit brought by the Attorney General of Texas against four battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden. The Court rejected the argument that those results should be thrown out over decisions each state  made to manage the presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Historically, individual states make their own decisions regarding elections, and the Supreme Court reaffirmed that. The decision noted that Texas “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections,” and was supported by all three justices who were nominated by President Donald Trump. The latest Economist/YouGov Poll shows how that single decision affected Americans’ opinion of the Supreme Court. 

The Court had been the most popular of the three branches of the federal government in recent polls. President Trump’s approval rating has languished in the low 40s throughout his term, and just 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is handling its job.  

The Court, however, has been better evaluated than its co-equal branches up to now. Immediately following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, about half (48%) of Americans approved of how the Supreme Court was handling its job. It still is viewed more favorably (43%) than unfavorably (35%), although the source of its support has shifted.  

Democrats now approve of the Supreme Court by about two to one (57% to 27%). Last week, Democratic opinion was more negative (41%) than positive (35%). Republicans moved in the other direction: their approval rating of the Court dropped 33-points after Friday’s decision (72% to 39%). 

Americans may only pay attention to the Supreme Court when it makes a controversial decision. When it does, Americans seem to respond in ways determined by their partisanship. But the change is often not long-lived. Much will depend on the next major decision made by the Court.   

Attorney General William Barr, another legal figure, has also been affected by recent events, including his disagreements with the President. On Monday, President Trump announced that Barr would depart his administration next week. While negative sentiment among Democrats towards Barr have not improved, Republicans and Independents perceptions have deteriorated.  

In September, one-third of Republicans (33%) had a very favorable opinion of Barr. That number has plummeted 27-points as he prepares to leave his post, to 6%. The number who have a “somewhat favorable” opinion of Barr has changed only slightly (24% to 19%) — overall, Republicans are fairly split on whether to view Barr favorably (30%) or not (32%). 

Related: Opinions on the Supreme Court before the Texas case 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll  

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adults interviewed online between December 13 - 15, 2020. 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 3.2% for the overall sample.   

Image: Getty