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New Marquette Law School Poll finds majorities of Wisconsin voters approve how Biden and Evers are handling coronavirus issues

MILWAUKEE — A new Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin registered voters finds 49% approving of the job President Joe Biden is doing as president, 46% disapproving and 4% saying they don’t know.

Forty-six percent approve of how Biden is handling the economy, while 48% disapprove and 6% say they don’t know. On his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, 54% approve, 42% disapprove and 5% say they don’t know.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers job approval stands at 50%, while 43% disapprove. When last measured in October 2020, 50% approved and 43% disapproved.

Approval of Evers’ handing of the coronavirus pandemic is 54%, with 39% disapproving. In October 2020, 52% approved and 45% disapproved.

The poll interviewed 807 registered Wisconsin voters by landline or cell phone from Aug. 3-8, 2021. The margin of error is +/-3.8 percentage points for the full sample. For half-sample items, the margin of error is +/-5.4 percentage points

Sen. Ron Johnson is viewed favorably by 35% and unfavorably by 42% of respondents, while 23% say they don’t have an opinion of him. In October 2020, 38% had a favorable opinion of Johnson, 36% had an unfavorable view and 26% lacked an opinion. The lowest net favorability rating for Johnson came in November 2015, when 27% had a favorable opinion and 38% were unfavorable.

Table 1 shows Johnson’s favorability by party identification in the last two polls. Since October 2020, there has been a slight decline in net favorability among Republicans, with larger declines among independents and Democrats.

Table 1: Ron Johnson favorability rating, by party, Oct. 2020 and Aug. 2021

Poll datesParty IDNetFavorableUnfavorableHaven’t heard enoughDon’t knowRefused
10/21-25/20Republican627082020
8/3-8/21Republican5870121530
10/21-25/20Independent136352621
8/3-8/21Independent-831392550
10/21-25/20Democrat-607672240
8/3-8/21Democrat-716771610

Sen. Tammy Baldwin is viewed favorably by 40% and unfavorably by 39%, while 21% do not have an opinion. In October 2020, she was viewed favorably by 44% and unfavorably by 36%, with 19% not offering an opinion.

Government performance

A majority of respondents, 51%, say things in Wisconsin are on the wrong track, while 38% say things are headed in the right direction. When this was last asked, in late March 2020, 61% said things were headed in the right direction and 30% said they were on the wrong track.

Half of the sample in the survey was asked if government in Wisconsin is working as intended or if it is broken. Thirty-two percent say it is working as intended, and 60% say it is broken. When the other half-sample was asked the same question about government in Washington, D.C., 10% say it is working as intended while 84% say it is broken.

Also in this August survey of registered voters in Wisconsin, half of the sample was asked about the accuracy of the counting of the November 2020 vote across the country, while the other half of the sample was asked about the accuracy of the vote in Wisconsin. For the national wording, 60% say they are very or somewhat confident that the votes across the country were accurately cast and counted in the 2020 election, while 38% say they are not very or not at all confident. In October 2020, prior to the election, 69% were confident or very confident about the accuracy of the election results, while 30% were not very or not at all confident.

For the half-sample asked about the accuracy of the vote count in Wisconsin, 67% say they are very or somewhat confident, while 31% say they are not very or not at all confident. A corresponding question about Wisconsin was not asked in the October 2020 poll.

Tables 2 and 3 show how partisans differ in their views of the accuracy of the election in the nation and in Wisconsin. The Republican distrust in the election is high, with three-quarters not confident in the national election results and two-thirds not confident in the Wisconsin results. Almost two-thirds of independents are confident in both national and state results. Democrats are virtually unanimous in their confidence that the election results were accurate.

Table 2: Confidence in 2020 election results across the country, by party identification

Party IDConfidentNot confidentDK/Ref
Republican22780
Independent69283
Democrat9442

Table 3: Confidence in 2020 election results in Wisconsin, by party identification

Party IDConfidentNot confidentDK/Ref
Republican29710
Independent72262
Democrat9730

Support in this Wisconsin poll for requiring a photo ID to vote is at 73%, with 22% opposing a photo ID requirement. When this question was last asked in October 2014, 60% supported and 36% opposed the requirement.

Respondents also favor automatic voter registration for eligible 18-year-olds, with 63% in favor and 31% opposed. This is the first time this question has been asked.

People were asked to choose between two statements: “the rules around voting make it too difficult for eligible citizens to cast a ballot” and “the rules around voting are not strict enough to prevent illegal votes from being cast.” Forty-three percent say the rules make it too difficult to vote, and 46% say the rules are not strict enough.

Issues and policy preferences

Those polled favor a $500 billion nationwide increase in new spending for infrastructure, with 53% in favor and 37% opposed. The survey was conducted during the debate in Washington, D.C., over the Senate “bipartisan” infrastructure plan.

Crime is seen overall as increasing in the respondent’s community. Forty-three percent say crime is higher than a year ago, 22% say it is lower and 26% say it is the same as a year ago. A much higher percentage of Wisconsinites, 69%, see crime rising nationally, with 10% saying it has declined and 11% saying it has stayed the same.

Just under half of respondents, 49%, say they are very concerned with inflation, with 36% somewhat concerned, 12%  not too concerned and 3% not at all concerned.

Illegal immigration is something 37% are very concerned about. Twenty-three percent said they are somewhat concerned, 21% are not too concerned, and 18% are not at all concerned.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour is supported by 51% and opposed by 44%. Such a question was last asked in 2019 without mentioning the amount the minimum wage might be raised. In April 2019, 57% favored an increase and 38% opposed an increase.

About a quarter of voters, 27%, say the federal program currently adding $300 per week to unemployment benefits is still needed, while two-thirds, 67%, say it is keeping people from returning to work.

Schools

In this latest poll, 69% of Wisconsinites say they are very satisfied or satisfied with the job public schools are doing in their community, while 22% say they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. When last asked in January 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic affected schools, 59% said they were very satisfied or satisfied and 33% said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

Public school teachers are viewed favorably by most respondents. Seventy-two percent say they have a favorable view, while 14% have an unfavorable view and 13% do not have an opinion. This question was asked once before, in March 2013, when 76% had a favorable view, 14% had an unfavorable view and 9% did not offer an opinion.

Given a choice between two views in the new poll, 43% say it is more important to hold down property taxes, while 52% say it is more important to increase spending for public schools. This was last asked in February 2020, when 38% said it was more important to hold down property taxes and 56% said increasing spending on public schools was more important.

There is high support for increased spending for special education programs, with 72% saying they favor a major increase, while 19% say they oppose this increased spending. This was last asked in April 2019, when 74% said they favored an increase and 19% opposed more spending.

Among respondents, 46% favor expanding the number of students receiving vouchers to attend private schools, and 44% oppose an increase. This question has not been asked before with this wording.

Recent debates over banning the teaching of critical race theory in public schools have not reached 43% of respondents, who say they don’t know enough to offer an opinion on this. Twenty-six percent favor teaching this in schools, and 30% oppose teaching it.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted in-person schooling over the past year, and there was  controversy over the pace of reopening. In this poll, 54% say their local schools reopened at about the right pace. Twenty-six percent say the schools in their community reopened too slowly, and 13% say they reopened too quickly.

Coronavirus and vaccines

Looking back to the closing of businesses and schools last year, 62% say this was an appropriate response to the pandemic, while 35% say it was an overreaction that did more harm than good. Initial support for the shutdowns in March 2020 was much higher. At that time, 86% said the shutdown was appropriate and 10% said it was an overreaction. When asked in October 2020, 68% said the shutdown was appropriate and 26% said it was an overreaction.

In this survey of registered voters, 68% say they have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, while 26% say they have not been vaccinated. An additional 7% either say they don’t know or decline to answer. As of Aug. 8, the final day of interviewing for this poll, the New York Times reported that Centers for Disease Control data show 68% of Wisconsin residents age 18 and over as having received at least one dose.

Of those who have not yet received a vaccination, 49% say they will definitely not get the vaccine, and another 27% say they probably won’t get the vaccine. Meanwhile, 14% say they probably will get vaccinated and another 8% say they will definitely get vaccinated.

There is a partisan divide in vaccinations, shown in Table 4. Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated, with independents and Democrats more likely.

Table 4: Vaccinated status, by party identification

Party IDVaccinatedNot vaccinatedDK/Ref
Republican454311
Independent71236
Democrat87112

Among those not yet vaccinated, there is considerable reluctance to be vaccinated, as shown in Table 5. This reluctance is highest among Republicans, although more than half of unvaccinated independents and Democrats also say they will probably or definitely not get the vaccine.

Table 5: Vaccination reluctance among unvaccinated, by party identification

Party IDDefinitely get itProbably get itProbably not get itDefinitely not get itDon’t knowRefused
Republican410285521
Independent1018224522
Democrat1819323200

Favorability ratings

The Black Lives Matter movement is viewed favorably by 46% of those polled and unfavorably by 40%, with 13% not offering an opinion. In October 2020, 47% rated the BLM movement favorably and 39% rated it unfavorably.

The police are viewed favorably by 80% and unfavorably by 13%, with 7% lacking an opinion. In October, the police were rated favorably by 80% and unfavorably by 12%.

Former President Donald Trump is seen favorably by 37% and unfavorably by 55%, with 7% lacking an opinion. In October 2020, 44% viewed him favorably and 54% viewed him unfavorably.

Long term trends in favorability for Biden, Evers, Johnson and Baldwin

The tables below provide the long-term trends in favorability for Biden, Evers, Johnson and Baldwin.

Table 6 shows Biden’s trend in favorability since 2019.

Table 6: Joe Biden favorability rating, 2019-2021

Poll datesNetFavorableUnfavorableHaven’t heard enoughDon’t knowRefused
8/25-29/1904545730
10/13-17/19-540451050
11/13-17/19-93948841
12/3-8/19-73946951
1/8-12/20-54146841
2/19-23/20-193453841
3/24-29/20-113950740
5/3-7/20-44246741
6/14-18/20-24446721
8/4-9/20-54348721
8/30-9/3/20-24547611
9/30-10/4/2034845520
10/21-25/2034946320
8/3-8/2144945320

Table 7 shows Evers’ trend in favorability.

Table 7: Tony Evers favorability rating, 2019-2021

Poll datesNetFavorableUnfavorableHaven’t heard enoughDon’t knowRefused
1/16-20/191741242860
4/3-7/191348351250
8/25-29/191449351150
10/13-17/191247351350
11/13-17/19243411230
12/3-8/19845371251
1/8-12/20845371431
2/19-23/20343401241
3/24-29/202654281160
5/3-7/20145036751
6/14-18/20175437720
8/4-9/20175235940
8/30-9/3/2064741921
9/30-10/4/2074740931
10/21-25/2044743820
8/3-8/2144642840

Table 8 shows Ron Johnson’s favorability rating since 2013.

Table 8: Ron Johnson favorability rating, 2013-2021

Poll datesNetFavorableUnfavorableHaven’t heard enoughDon’t knowRefused
3/11-13/13530254040
5/6-9/13833253740
10/21-24/13-429333530
1/20-23/14631253850
3/20-23/14229274040
7/17-20/14029294020
8/21-24/141439253141
10/23-26/14333303151
4/7-10/15332293450
8/13-16/15-130313530
9/24-28/15-927363340
11/12-15/15-1127383320
1/21-24/16-726333741
2/18-21/16-429333530
3/24-28/16132313420
6/9-12/16233313320
7/7-10/16-134353020
8/4-7/16234323120
8/25-28/16-133343021
9/15-18/16-234362820
10/6-9/16841332320
10/26-31/16341381740
3/13-16/17539342331
6/22-25/17739322630
2/25-3/1/181040302540
6/13-17/18539342150
7/11-15/18440361671
8/15-19/181040302541
9/12-16/18638322460
10/3-7/18941322151
10/24-28/18939302461
1/16-20/191644282350
4/3-7/19840322450
8/25-29/191140292560
10/13-17/191140292460
11/13-17/191039292470
12/3-8/19236342641
1/8-12/201039292830
2/19-23/20337342451
3/24-29/20335322940
5/3-7/20438342351
6/14-18/20335322930
8/4-9/20-233352740
8/30-9/3/20-432362850
9/30-10/4/20435312770
10/21-25/20238362331
8/3-8/21-735422030

Table 9 shows Tammy Baldwin’s favorability rating since 2012.

Table 9: Tammy Baldwin favorability rating, 2012-2021

Poll datesNetFavorableUnfavorableHaven’t heard enoughDon’t knowRefused
1/19-22/12223215051
2/16-19/12-621274930
3/22-25/12-620264670
5/23-26/12026263980
6/13-16/12-327303940
7/5-8/12-526313850
8/2-5/12-530353221
8/16-19/12-532372740
9/13-16/12536312851
9/27-30/12-237392031
10/11-14/12-1631471840
10/25-28/12-836441541
3/11-13/13439352230
5/6-9/13240382020
10/21-24/131147361430
1/20-23/14136352720
3/20-23/14035352730
7/17-20/14335322840
8/21-24/14739322351
10/23-26/14-136372330
4/7-10/15139381940
8/13-16/15-436402220
6/9-12/16437332740
9/15-18/16638322730
10/26-31/16037372060
3/13-16/17540352130
6/22-25/17038382120
2/25-3/1/18-237392030
6/13-17/18-241431141
7/11-15/18141401351
8/15-19/18343401431
9/12-16/18645391060
10/3-7/18545401130
10/24-28/18545401130
1/16-20/19445411130
4/3-7/19144431030
8/25-29/19444401330
10/13-17/19746391130
11/13-17/19-439431251
12/3-8/19342391431
1/8-12/20444401320
2/19-23/20343401331
3/24-29/20140391640
5/3-7/20845371431
6/14-18/20240381930
8/4-9/20743361730
8/30-9/3/20742351931
9/30-10/4/20641352030
10/21-25/20844361540
8/3-8/21140391830

About the Marquette Law School Poll

The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. This poll interviewed 807 registered Wisconsin voters by landline or cell phone Aug. 3-8, 2021. The margin of error is +/-3.8 percentage points for the full sample. For half-sample items the margin of error is +/-5.4 percentage points

Items asked of half-samples include the accuracy of the vote count, if government is working or broken, the perception of rising crime, raising minimum wage, need for added unemployment benefits, concerns about inflation and illegal immigration, photo ID for voting, automatic voter registration, if voting laws are too strict or not strict enough and whether critical race theory should be taught in public schools.

The partisan makeup of the sample, including those who lean to a party, is 45% Republican, 44% Democratic, and 9% independent. The partisan makeup of the sample, excluding those who lean to a party, is 30% Republican, 29% Democratic and 40% independent.

Since January 2019, the long-term partisan balance, including those who lean to a party, in the Marquette poll has been 45% Republican and 44% Democratic, with 9% independent. Partisanship excluding those who lean has been 29% Republican and 28% Democratic, with 41% independent.

New national Marquette Law School Poll finds public approval of the Supreme Court to be high, partisanship to shape views of justices and decisions

MILWAUKEE — A Marquette University Law School poll of adults nationwide finds 60% saying they approve of the way the U.S. Supreme Court is handling its job, while 39% disapprove and 1% do not offer an opinion. By comparison, in the same national poll, 58% approve of the way President Joe Biden is handling his job as president, while 42% disapprove. The U.S. Congress fares worst of the three branches, as 33% among the public approve and 66% disapprove of how Congress is performing its duties.

Over the past year, approval of the Court has declined six points, from 66% in September 2020. Disapproval rose a corresponding amount, from 33% to 39%. Asked which branch of the federal government they trust most, 58% of respondents say they trust the Court most of the three branches, with 28% saying they trust the presidency most and 13% saying they trust Congress the most. In the 2020 national Marquette Law School Poll, 59% said they trusted the Court most, with the presidency at 24% and Congress at 16%.

The Marquette Law School Poll previously conducted national surveys of public opinion and attitudes about the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 and 2020. This new poll reflects an expansion of this initiative, which will see a similar national poll conducted every other month for the next year. This survey was conducted July 16-26, 2021, among 1,010 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were conducted using the SSRS Opinion Panel, a national probability sample with interviews conducted online.

Approval of the Court varies little by party in this survey, whereas partisanship played a larger role a year ago. Tables 1 and 2 show approval of the way the Court is handling its job, by party identification for 2021 and 2020. Democrats and Republicans have similar approval ratings of the Court this year, but in 2020 Republicans were much more approving of the Court. This shift is striking because the 2020 survey was completed before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, so the decline in Republican approval comes despite the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed by Republican President Donald Trump.

All numbers in tables are percentages unless context indicates otherwise.

Table 1: Approval of the way the Court is doing its job, by party identification, July 2021

Party IDApproveDisapproveRefused
Republican57421
Independent61371
Democrat59401

Table 2: Approval of the way the Court is doing its job, by party identification, September 2020

Party IDApproveDisapproveRefused
Republican80192
Independent64342
Democrat57430

Despite the intense arguments over the Court in partisan circles, perceptions of the Court’s makeup have changed only modestly since Barrett’s nomination gave Republican presidents six appointments to the Court versus three appointments by Democratic presidents. Fewer than a third of respondents say Republican presidents have “definitely” appointed a majority of the Court, while just under half say they “probably” have appointed a majority. Almost a quarter say Democratic presidents have probably or definitely appointed a majority of the Court. Perception has shifted slightly over the past three years, with more awareness in 2021 of a Republican-appointed majority, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: What is your guess as to whether a majority of the current US Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Democratic or Republican presidents?

SurveyDefinitely a majority appointed by Democratic presidentsProbably a majority appointed by Democratic presidentsProbably a majority appointed by Republican presidentsDefinitely a majority appointed by Republican presidents
September 20194235319
September 20204245121
July 20214204530

Knowledge of the partisan majority—a shorthand term used in this release simply to refer to the party of the appointing president—varies substantially by party. Despite three appointments to the Court by Donald Trump and frequent public references to Republican emphasis on judicial nominations, only 16% of Republicans say Republican presidents have “definitely” appointed a majority of the justices. By comparison, 44% of Democrats know this fact. Table 4 shows awareness of the partisan majority by party identification.

Table 4: Perceived partisan majority, by party identification

Party IDDefinitely/Probably Dem majorityProbably Rep majorityDefinitely Rep majority
Republican305316
Independent264528
Democrat183844

Republicans who think Democratic presidents have appointed a majority of the Court (30% of all Republicans) are much less approving of the Court than Republicans who know there is a Republican-appointed majority. For independents and Democrats, those who say Republican presidents have definitely appointed a majority of the Court are less approving than those who say there is “probably” a Republican-appointed majority or who think there might be a majority appointed by Democratic presidents. Table 5 shows this relationship.

Table 5: Approval of the Court, by party and knowledge of partisan majority

Party IDAwareness of partisan majorityApproveDisapproveRefused
RepublicanDefinitely/Probably Dem majority43570
RepublicanProbably Rep majority63361
RepublicanDefinitely Rep majority64360
IndependentDefinitely/Probably Dem majority60364
IndependentProbably Rep majority67320
IndependentDefinitely Rep majority52480
DemocratDefinitely/Probably Dem majority71290
DemocratProbably Rep majority63353
DemocratDefinitely Rep majority52480

Institutional change

Expansion of the Court has become a frequent topic of debate following recent confirmation battles in Congress. In the new national Marquette Law School Poll, 48% favor increasing the number of justices on the Court, while 51% oppose such a structural change.

On the issue of expanding the number of justices, the poll shows substantial and symmetric partisan differences, as shown in Table 6, with Republicans heavily opposed to an expansion and Democrats heavily in favor. Independents are, on balance, somewhat opposed.

Table 6: Support for expanding the number of justices, by party identification

Party IDFavorOppose
Republican2674
Independent4456
Democrat7326

A majority of the public thinks that justices should not consider partisan control of the presidency and Senate when deciding the timing of their retirements. However, when given information about some Democrats urging Justice Stephen Breyer to retire now with a Democratic president and Senate, more people support retiring with politics in mind, though it remains a minority.

When asked “Do you think Justices should consider the party in control of the White House and senate as they decide when to retire?” 28% say justices should consider party control, while 72% say they should not consider this. This item was asked of a random half-sample of the survey.

The other random half of respondents was provided more information and context in the form of an alternative question worded this way: “Justice Stephen Breyer is 82 years old and the oldest member of the Court. He was nominated to the court in 1994 by President Clinton. Some Democrats are urging Breyer to retire now while there are a Democratic president and senate. Do you think Justices should consider the party in control of the White House and senate as they decide when to retire?” With this wording, 39% say justices should consider party control while 60% say they should not.

The partisan information boosts support for political timing of retirements across partisan identification, especially among Democrats, as shown in Tables 7 and 8.

Table 7: “Do you think Justices should consider the party in control of the White House and senate as they decide when to retire?”

Party IDConsider party controlNot consider party control
Republican1684
Independent2674
Democrat4159

Table 8: “Justice Stephen Breyer is 82 years old and the oldest member of the Court. He was nominated to the court in 1994 by President Clinton. Some Democrats are urging Breyer to retire now while there are a Democratic president and senate. Do you think Justices should consider the party in control of the White House and senate as they decide when to retire?”

Party IDConsider party controlNot consider party control
Republican2377
Independent3761
Democrat5842

Cases and decisions

While some Supreme Court decisions break through to public awareness among almost all citizens, most cases struggle to reach even half of the public. Six cases handed down in June or early July illustrate this range of visibility. They also show that, among those who have heard of them, a plurality supports all but one of the decisions, with substantial plurality support for three of the six decisions. Table 9 shows these decisions in order from least visible to most visible. The exact question wordings describing these cases were paraphrases of the way the cases were described in leading newspaper coverage. The full wording of the questions is given at the end of this release and is also available in the complete survey instrument posted online.

Table 9: Awareness and view of decisions

DecisionHeard nothingHeard but not enoughHeard enoughFavorOpposeNet favor
California donor disclosure (Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta)40213820182
NCAA antitrust (NCAA v. Alston)33254134727
Arizona voting rights (Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee)27264623230
Philadelphia Catholic Social Services (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)36174627198
School speech (Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.)24165952745
Affordable Care Act (California v. Texas)152460421824

Perceived ideology of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is perceived as a center-right institution. Thirteen percent say it is very conservative, 37% say it is somewhat conservative, and 42% call it moderate. A small set of respondents (6%) see the Court as somewhat liberal and 1% think it is very liberal.

Perceptions have shifted a bit to the right since September 2020, when 5% said the Court was very conservative, 30% called it conservative, and 54% labeled it moderate, while 9% said it was liberal and 2% called it very liberal. (The category labels changed from 2020 to 2021, replacing “conservative” with “somewhat conservative” and “liberal” with “somewhat liberal,” so it is possible that this change in wording affected the results independently of changes in public perceptions.)

Compared across political institutions and actors, the Court is on average seen as closer to the center than is the Republican party and closer to the right than is Joe Biden or the Democratic party. Table 10 shows the average position on a 1-5 scale, where 1 is very conservative and 5 is very liberal.

Table 10: Average ideological ratings where 1 is very conservative through 5 is very liberal

Rating forMean
Republican party1.77
Supreme Court2.44
Joe Biden3.73
Democratic party3.95

While the public sees the court as leaning to the right ideologically, a substantial majority (71%) say the justices’ decisions are most often motivated by the law, while 29% say decisions are mainly based on politics. In the 2020 poll, 62% said the law was the main motivation of justices, and 37% said it was mainly politics.

A majority of each partisan group says the justices are mainly motivated by the law, though the majorities are somewhat smaller among Democrats than among Republicans or independents. Table 11 shows responses by party.

Table 11: Do justices decide mainly based on politics or the law, by party

Party IDMainly politicsMainly the law
Republican2476
Independent2575
Democrat4060

The public’s views of the justices

The justices are not well known among the public. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) say they do not know enough about any of the nine justices to give a favorable or unfavorable opinion about them. Another quarter, 27%, are able to rate one, two or three justices. Twenty-three percent are able to rate four to six justices, and a final 26% can rate seven to nine justices.

Individual justices vary considerably in their visibility to the public. Table 12 shows the justices in order from least well known to most well known.

Table 12: Recognition and favorability ratings of justices, July 2021

JusticeNever heard ofHeard but not enoughAble to rateFavorableUnfavorable
Stephen Breyer433324186
Elena Kagan413029218
Samuel Alito3930311912
Neil Gorsuch3531342113
John Roberts3026432914
Sonia Sotomayor2525493712
Amy Coney Barrett2125532726
Clarence Thomas2122573225
Brett Kavanaugh1724582632

The order of justices by visibility is little changed from a year ago, with Barrett as third-most visible; on the Court, she replaced Ginsburg, who was the most well-known prior to her death in 2020. Breyer, Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch were the least well-known both years. Chief Justice John Roberts has been in the middle of visibility, with just over 40% able to rate him in both 2020 and 2021. The corresponding ratings of justices in September 2020 are shown in Table 13.

Table 13: 2020 Recognition and favorability ratings of justices, September 2020

JusticeNever heard ofHeard but not enoughAble to rateFavorableUnfavorable
Stephen Breyer473418126
Samuel Alito413325178
Elena Kagan462727189
Neil Gorsuch3729331914
John Roberts3127412813
Sonia Sotomayor2825473314
Clarence Thomas2223553025
Brett Kavanaugh1623602832
Ruth Bader Ginsburg1719634419


How knowledge and partisanship structure views of the Court

While the Supreme Court has been embroiled in political fights over appointments and high-stakes decisions on cases, and many party and interest group activists see the Court as crucial to their political and policy goals, the Court is, for the mass public, a somewhat distant object. Most citizens can offer generalized views of approval or ideology or trust, but specific and detailed knowledge is often lacking. While virtually all respondents are willing to give an approval rating or place the Court on a liberal-conservative ideology scale, only about half, 51%, say the choice of the next justice is “very important” to them personally, only 58% can say whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the best-known justice, while one in four (24%) state they don’t know enough to rate any of the nine justices, and 18% do not know enough to offer an opinion of any of six cases decided in the previous two months.

While it is common for voters to lack detailed knowledge of policy, procedure. or elected officials, the Court falls at the low end of visibility. It is not uncommon for a quarter to a third of voters to lack a favorable or unfavorable opinion of their U.S. senators, yet 42% were unable to give an opinion about the best-known justice, and 76% lacked an opinion of the least-known justice. Many voters are unable to give the name of their member of the House of Representatives. In light of this, it is not that the Court’s limited visibility is unique but rather that it represents the low end of a continuum from the highly visible president, through governors, senators, and members of Congress, to the Court.

An important implication of this is that the structure of opinion about the Court may differ substantially between those who have high interest in it and those who only casually attend to the Court, with rare exceptions such as confirmation battles or landmark decisions.

While opinion is often only loosely informed, citizens still form generalized opinions about the Court in much the same way they form opinion about other less-than-universally known political actors and policy. In particular, they rely on partisanship and party cues.

A first consequence of the information gradient is that those citizens most interested and most informed have the most divided views of the Court, while the less attentive tend to view the Court in a more positive light.

Those who say the next appointment to the Court is very important to them personally are about evenly divided in approval of the Court, while those less concerned are notably more approving, as shown in Table 14.

Table 14: Court approval, by how important is the choice of the next justice

ImportanceApproveDisapproveRefused
Very important53461
Somewhat important68320
Not too important64343
Not at all important62380

A similar pattern is evident for knowledge of decisions and of the justices. Those in the best-informed categories are considerably more divided in their views of the Court than are those with more limited knowledge. Table 15 shows the differences by knowledge of recent decisions, and Table 16 shows differences by ability to give an opinion of the justices.

Table 15: Court approval, by knowledge of recent decisions

Awareness of decisionsApproveDisapproveRefused
Case knowledge: zero decisions65332
Case knowledge: 1-2 decisions63361
Case knowledge: 3-462380
Case knowledge: 5-649491

Table 16: Approval of the Court, by knowledge of justices

Awareness of justicesApproveDisapproveRefused
Lowest quarter62362
2nd quarter60390
3rd quarter64351
Highest quarter52470

The partisan structure of opinion about the Court

Despite the limitations of knowledge about the Court the public manages, in a rough way, to match its partisan positions to its views of the justices and the Court’s decisions.

With the sole exception of Chief Justice Roberts, net favorability aligns with the partisanship of the respondent and the party of the president who appointed the Justice. This pattern holds for the less well-known justices (Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch) and for the more widely known justices (Sotomayor, Barrett, Thomas, and Kavanaugh). Roberts alone is more positively evaluated by Democrats than by Republicans, despite his appointment by Republican President George W. Bush. Views of the justices by party are shown in Table 17.

Table 17: Recognition and favorability ratings of justices, by party identification

JusticeParty IDAble to rateFavorableUnfavorableNet favorability
Samuel AlitoRepublican3225718
Samuel AlitoIndependent2920911
Samuel AlitoDemocrat331122-11
Stephen BreyerRepublican191091
Stephen BreyerIndependent2016412
Stephen BreyerDemocrat3227522
Amy Coney BarrettRepublican5956353
Amy Coney BarrettIndependent472324-1
Amy Coney BarrettDemocrat58949-40
Neil GorsuchRepublican3330327
Neil GorsuchIndependent31211011
Neil GorsuchDemocrat371225-13
Elena KaganRepublican271215-3
Elena KaganIndependent251697
Elena KaganDemocrat3635134
Brett KavanaughRepublican5856254
Brett KavanaughIndependent542331-8
Brett KavanaughDemocrat63558-53
John RobertsRepublican3620164
John RobertsIndependent44301416
John RobertsDemocrat47351223
Clarence ThomasRepublican5750743
Clarence ThomasIndependent5230228
Clarence ThomasDemocrat641945-26
Sonia SotomayorRepublican421626-10
Sonia SotomayorIndependent46341222
Sonia SotomayorDemocrat6261160

Political partisanship also correlates with reactions to cases with a notable partisan tilt in the lineup of the justices (in the respective majority and dissent) or with a partisan bent in their dominant public characterizations, including the Arizona voting rights, California donor disclosure, Philadelphia Catholic Social Services, and Affordable Care Act cases. Views of other decisions, with a less clear partisan connection, including the school speech and NCAA antitrust decisions, vary less by partisanship, although Democrats favor the decisions somewhat more than do Republicans. These relationships are shown in Table 18.

Table 18: Awareness of decisions and view of decisions by party identification

DecisionParty IDNot heard/not enoughFavorOpposeNet favor
Arizona voting rights (Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee)Republican54341222
Arizona voting rights (Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee)Independent5526188
Arizona voting rights (Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee)Democrat511138-27
California donor disclosure (Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta)Republican61271116
California donor disclosure (Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta)Independent6122175
California donor disclosure (Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta)Democrat641125-14
School speech (Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.)Republican4545936
School speech (Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.)Independent3855550
School speech (Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.)Democrat3855847
Philadelphia Catholic Social Services (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)Republican47421032
Philadelphia Catholic Social Services (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)Independent5625187
Philadelphia Catholic Social Services (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)Democrat541729-12
Affordable Care Act (California v. Texas)Republican481537-22
Affordable Care Act (California v. Texas)Independent43411526
Affordable Care Act (California v. Texas)Democrat2666759
NCAA antitrust (NCAA v. Alston)Republican6624915
NCAA antitrust (NCAA v. Alston)Independent5835530
NCAA antitrust (NCAA v. Alston)Democrat5241635


About the Marquette Law School Poll

The survey was conducted July 16-26, 2021, interviewing 1,010 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were conducted online using the SSRS Opinion Panel, a national probability sample. The half-sample items concerning justices’ retirement decisions have a margin of error of +/-5.6 percentage points. The detailed methodology statement, survey instrument, topline results, and crosstabs for this release are available at https://law.marquette.edu/poll/category/results-and-data/

Question wording for Court decisions (see also https://law.marquette.edu/poll/category/results-and-data/)

“Do you favor or oppose the following recent Supreme Court decision, or haven’t you heard enough about it to have an opinion? The Supreme Court…”

“Ruled that an Arizona law did not violate the federal Voting Rights Act in rejecting ballots cast at the wrong precinct and limiting who can return absentee ballots for a voter.” [Note to reader here: This is a reference to Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.]

“Ruled that California cannot require charities to report the identities of their top donors to the state attorney general, saying this violated the Constitutional right of freedom of association.” [Note: A reference to Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta.]

“Ruled that schools generally cannot punish students for things they say outside of school hours and off school grounds with the possible exception of bullying or threats.” [Note: A reference to Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.]

“Ruled that Philadelphia was wrong to end a Catholic group’s contract to provide foster-care services because the organization refused to work with same-sex couples.” [Note: A reference to Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.]

“Rejected a case attempting to strike down the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, leaving the health care law intact.” [Note: A reference to California v. Texas.]

“Ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violated antitrust laws when it limited the various education-related benefits that colleges and universities can offer student athletes.” [Note: A reference to NCAA v. Alston.]