Linda Greenhouse on SCOTUSWorld and Polls Post-ACA

July 25th, 2012

At least, hunger within ScotusWorld (which includes readers of this column). Polls conducted in the aftermath of the health care decision have received attention for revealing the public’s fickleness toward the court. A Gallup Poll from mid-July shows that while last September, half of all Republicans approved of “the way the Supreme Court is handling its job,” only 29 percent approve today. Last September, 46 percent of Democrats approved of the court (little different from the Republican approval rate), while now 68 percent do. Only among self-described independents was there no significant change: 44 percent approved of the court last September, and 42 percent approve today.

On reflection, these figures are not as startling as they seem. Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Columbia with expertise in polling and public opinion, shared with me an unpublished article in which he makes the point that few people know much about the Supreme Court and very few ever read a Supreme Court opinion. Rather, they take their cues about the court from opinion leaders they trust.

So it’s not far-fetched to assume that in our polarized and supersaturated media environment, Republicans exposed themselves for the past two years to a drumbeat of criticism of the Affordable Care Act and to the fervent desire on the part of people they respect for the Supreme Court to strike it down. For Democrats, of course, the opposite occurred: Rachel Maddow instead of Rush Limbaugh. Perhaps independents listened to both, or neither. Or possibly these folks had not invested their own identity with a particular view of the matter. Their view of the law, in other words, was a matter of judgment rather than self-definition. Or maybe the independents simply tuned out altogether, not caring enough about the decision to let it change their minds one way or another about the worthiness of the Supreme Court.

I’ll write more about this when I have time.