On Saturday night, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. In the toxic political environment of the 21st century, that officially launched a political process that will be as ugly as it is uninformative. We will be deluged with messaging and polls about abortion, health care and which presidential candidate is helped by which statement.
As always, I’m more interested in the deeper currents of public opinion rather than the short-term news cycle. So, immediately following the nomination of Barrett, I conducted a survey to check on some underlying attitudes about the court and voter expectations. I consciously chose to explore some topics that will likely be absent from the upcoming partisan wars that will dominate the coming weeks.
For example, sometimes there is a conflict between government laws and the teachings of a faith or religion. This creates tension since faith is an important part of daily life for so many Americans.
So, how would voters respond if there is such a conflict? If they felt a law forced them to violate the teachings and values of their faith, 39% of voters would be likely to follow the teachings of their faith. Forty-one percent (41%) would follow the law (that figure includes 15% who say faith is not at all important in their life).
White voters are evenly divided on the subject. By a 45% to 34% margin, Black voters would follow their faith.
Republicans would be more likely to follow their faith while Democrats would be more likely to follow the law. Independent voters are split. And, as on many issues, there is an interesting divide between the views of white and Black Democrats. By a 56% to 25% margin, white Democrats would follow the law. By a 42% to 34% margin, Black Democrats would follow their faith.
These differences of opinion remind us of just how fortunate we are to have a Constitution that protects our individual rights and freedoms.
Of course, when citizens decide to follow their faith rather than government, conflict can sometimes result. Often, those conflicts work their way to the Supreme Court. As a result, the justices must issue rulings that involve trade-offs between individual freedom and government authority.
On this question, at this point in time, there is a perception that the court may be too deferential to government authority. Thirty-five percent (35%) hold that view while just 10% believe it goes too far in protecting individual freedom. Still, most voters (55%) either believe the balance is about right or don’t have an opinion.
A similar dynamic is found when we ask about the court’s handling of the trade-offs between powers of state governments and the powers of the federal government. Thirty percent (30%) of voters believe the court errs on the side of giving too much power to the federal government. Only 12% believe it gives too much power to the states. But, again, most voters either believe the balance is about right or don’t have an opinion.
Given these perceptions, it is not surprising that most voters (56%) approve of the way the Supreme Court is doing its job. That’s something to keep in mind during the coming weeks. Voters have a much higher opinion of the court itself than they do of the politicians arguing about it.
Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”