Americans Deliver Verdicts on the U.S. Supreme Court

NEW YORK , N.Y. – October 1, 2014 – October has arrived once again, and with it comes the impending return of the U.S. Supreme Court, which begins its new term next Monday. In anticipation of this, The Harris Poll asked Americans to deliberate on the nation’s highest court, and found that despite two-thirds of Americans (68%) feeling it’s a crucial governing body for the success of the United States, nearly half of Americans (47%, up from 42% in 2010) say they are not knowledgeable about the Supreme Court confirmation process.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll¨ of 2,537 adults surveyed online between August 13 and 18, 2014.

Just over half of Americans (53%, down from 58% in 2010) indicate being that they’re knowledgeable about the process, with one in ten (11%) saying specifically that they are very knowledgeable about it and just over four in ten (42%) saying they’re somewhat knowledgeable. Generational and gender gaps both emerge on this:

  • Gen Xers (57%) and Baby Boomers (58%) are both more likely than Millennials (45%) to consider themselves knowledgeable.
  • Men (68%) are considerably more likely than women (40%) to indicate that they are knowledgeable.

Q&A

While there are no Supreme Court confirmations on the immediate horizon, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been confirming for her part in recent interviews, the need can arise unpredictably. As such, it’s important to examine the confirmation process, beginning with the topics they should or should not be expected to discuss during their Congressional interviews. Over eight in ten Americans (84%, up slightly from 81% in 2010) believe Supreme Court nominees should be required to answer questions about their views on specific issues, while nearly three-fourths (73%) feel they should be required to discuss their political affiliations, and nearly two-thirds (65%, up slightly from 63% in 2010) feel they should be required to indicate how they would vote in specific past and hypothetical court cases. Americans seem to be more invested in nominees’ personal lives than in 2010, as the percentage believing nominees should be required to answer questions about their personal lives has risen from 54% in 2010 to 61% today.

The expectation that nominees should discuss their personal lives is an especially divisive one:

  • Fewer than half of Millennials agree they should be required to answer questions about their personal lives (48%), compared to roughly two-thirds of Gen Xers (64%) and Baby Boomers (68%), and three-fourths of Matures (74%).
  • Looking at the political spectrum, Republicans are far more likely than either Democrats or Independents to agree candidates should have to answer such questions (73%, 58% and 59%, respectively).

Also on the subject of the selection process, nearly half of Americans (48%) believe it would be better if Supreme Court justices were elected to office, with 36% disagreeing and 16% unsure.

Constitutional purist or independent thinker?

When asked what type of person they’d most like to see on the Supreme Court, a plurality (48%, down slightly from 51% in 2010) opted for a jurist who keeps their personal opinions of right and wrong to themselves and makes decisions strictly based on the letter of the law and the Constitution. One-third of Americans (32%, identical to 2010 findings) say they would prefer an independent thinker who uses creativity and an understanding of modern circumstances to inform their legal rulings, while one in ten (9%, up from 6% in 2010) say they’d want someone who uses their own values or moral compass to guide their decisions. An additional one in ten are not at all sure what type of person they prefer (11%, same as in 2010).

  • Generational divides again emerge. The jurist making decisions based strictly on the letter of the law and the Constitution is the top selection, followed by the independent thinker, for matures (67% and 25%, respectively), Baby Boomers (55% and 30%, respectively) and Gen Xers (49% and 33%, respectively). Meanwhile, Millennials are more likely to opt for the independent thinker (37% by a narrow margin over the constitutional and legal literalist (34%)
  • Differences are also apparent by political party, with a clear majority of Republicans (64%) preferring a justice be a literalist over an independent thinker (16%) or someone who looks to their own values to guide their decisions (12%). Independents are more split, with nearly half (48%) preferring a literalist and over one-third (36%) preferring an independent thinker. Democrats veer further still from Republicans’ viewpoint, with a plurality (44%) indicating a preference for the independent thinker while 38% opt for the literalist.

Representativeness and the appointment of a lifetime

Seven in ten Americans believe that the makeup of the Supreme Court should fairly represent Americans’ diverse socioeconomic backgrounds (71%) and that it should fairly represent the demographic makeup of the United States (70%). Democrats are more likely than either Republicans or Independents to support both of these statements (Socioeconomic – 82% Democrats vs. 64% Republicans and 68% Independents / Demographic – 82% vs. 61% and 67%, respectively).

Seven in ten U.S. adults also believe that Supreme Court justices should not have lifetime appointments. Interestingly, objection to the lifetime appointment is lowest among the youngest generations (63% Millennials, vs. 71% Gen Xers, 73% Baby Boomers and 76% Matures).

 

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TABLE 1

SUPREME COURT CONFIRMATION PROCESS KNOWLEDGEABLE

By Generation & Gender

How knowledgeable would you say you are about the Supreme Court confirmation process in the United States?

Base: All adults

Total 2014

Total 2010

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-37)

Gen. X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Knowledgeable (NET)

53

58

45

57

58

53

68

40

Very knowledgeable

11

14

11

12

10

10

17

6

Somewhat knowledgeable

42

44

34

45

48

44

51

34

Not knowledgeable (NET)

47

42

55

43

42

47

32

60

Not that knowledgeable

30

24

33

27

26

36

23

35

Not at all knowledgeable

17

18

21

16

16

10

9

24

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2

INTERVIEWS DURING CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Summary Grid

The Senate often interviews nominees to the Supreme Court, before deciding whether or not to confirm that person as a new justice on the court. During these interviews do you believeÉ?

Base: All adults

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The nominee should be required to answer questions about their views on specific issues.

84

56

27

10

6

4

7

The nominee should be required to discuss their political affiliations.

73

44

28

19

11

8

8

The nominee should be required to say how they would vote in specific court cases, including both past cases and hypothetical cases.

65

38

27

25

15

11

10

The nominee should be required to answer questions about their personal life.

61

28

33

30

19

10

9

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 3

INTERVIEWS DURING CONFIRMATION PROCESS

Agree (NET) by Generation & Political Party

The Senate often interviews nominees to the Supreme Court, before deciding whether or not to confirm that person as a new justice on the court. During these interviews do you believeÉ?

Summary of those saying strongly agree or somewhat agree

Base: All adults

Total 2014

Total 2010

Generation

Political Party

Millennials (18-37)

Gen. X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The nominee should be required to answer questions about their views on specific issues.

84

81

76

86

87

89

87

84

84

The nominee should be required to discuss their political affiliations.

73

N/A

69

75

75

73

77

73

72

The nominee should be required to say how they would vote in specific court cases, including both past cases and hypothetical cases.

65

63

64

71

63

59

69

65

64

The nominee should be required to answer questions about their personal life.

61

54

48

64

68

74

73

58

59

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 4

IDEAL SUPREME COURT JUSTICE

By Generation & Political party

In thinking about the type of person you would most like to see on the Supreme Court, is that person someone whoÉ?

Base: All adults

Total 2014

Total 2010

Generation

Political Party

Millennials (18-37)

Gen. X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Keeps their personal opinions of right and wrong to themselves, and makes decisions strictly based on the letter of the law and the Constitution

48

51

34

49

55

67

64

38

48

Is an independent thinker who uses creativity and an understanding of modern circumstances to inform their legal rulings

32

32

37

33

30

25

16

44

36

Uses their own values, or moral compass, to guide their decisions

9

6

13

8

8

3

12

8

8

Not at all sure

11

11

16

10

7

5

8

9

9

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5

OVERALL OPINION OF THE SUPREME COURT

Which of the below statements comes closest to your overall opinion of the Supreme Court?

Base: All adults

Total 2014

Total 2010

Education

Gender

Political Party

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

Male

Female

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

It is a crucial governing body for the success of the United States.

68

69

63

67

74

80

76

61

72

69

70

It is not necessary – decision-making power should lay within the state courts.

9

9

10

10

7

7

9

9

9

8

10

Not at all sure

22

22

27

22

19

13

15

29

19

23

20

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 6a

REPRESENTATIVENESS, LIFETIME APPOINTMENTS AND SELECTION PROCESS

Summary Grid

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The makeup of the Supreme Court should fairly represent Americans’ diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

71

39

32

18

11

7

10

The makeup of the Supreme Court should fairly represent the demographic (e.g., race, gender) makeup of the United States.

70

38

32

21

11

10

9

Supreme Court justices should not have lifetime appointments.

70

41

28

18

10

8

12

It would be better if Supreme Court justices were elected to office.

48

23

25

36

18

18

16

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 6b

REPRESENTATIVENESS, LIFETIME APPOINTMENTS AND SELECTION PROCESS

Agree (NET) by Generation & Political Party

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Summary of those saying strongly agree or somewhat agree

Base: All adults

Total 2014

Generation

Political Party

Millennials (18-37)

Gen. X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The makeup of the Supreme Court should fairly represent Americans’ diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

71

70

69

73

75

64

82

68

The makeup of the Supreme Court should fairly represent the demographic (e.g., race, gender) makeup of the United States.

70

68

69

74

69

61

82

67

Supreme Court justices should not have lifetime appointments.

70

63

71

73

76

71

70

72

It would be better if Supreme Court justices were elected to office.

48

51

49

47

40

50

51

44

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding

 

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between August 13 and 18, 2014 among 2,537 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll #90, October 1, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll