Source Cues and Public Support for the Supreme Court

TOM S. CLARK, JONATHAN P. KASTELLEC
AMERICAN POLITICS RESEARCH 43.3 (2015): 504-535

Abstract: It is well known that the public often relies on cues or heuristics when forming opinions. At the same time, leading theories of opinion formation about the Supreme Court see such support as relatively fixed. Using a series of survey experiments, we find source cues significantly influence the public’s support for the Court, including the extent to which individuals believe the Court should be independent from the elected branches. Specifically, we find partisan source cues play a significant role in shaping public opinion regarding life tenure for the justices and the extent to which the Court should have the final say in constitutional matters—individuals are less likely to support court-curbing measures when informed that elites from the opposite party have proposed them than when such measures are endorsed by either a neutral source or members of their own party. We also find a strong connection between specific support for particular decisions and the degree to which people believe the Court should be free from external influence, as individuals are more likely to say the justices should be influenced by demonstrators when the side they favor is the one doing the demonstrating. These results have important implications for understanding the extent to which politicians can shape the public’s overall support for the Court, as well as for assessing the degree to which the public views the Court as a “political” institution.