Poll on court encouraging for right

On Monday, the Gallup News Service indicted the U.S. Supreme Court by introducing evidence that one-third of Americans — “the highest level in more than a decade,” Gallup charged — describe the body as “too conservative.” It’s easy to see why Gallup led with this ostensibly grim news for conservatives. They needed something to offset the almost wholly good news for the right and the court that is to be found elsewhere in this mid-September poll of 1,010 adults. Even the leading headline could have been rewritten: “Two out of three Americans DON’T think Supreme Court is ‘too conservative.’ ” There’s good news here for conservatives and Republicans.

First off, the lede in Gallup’s report should have been about the court’s approval rating rather than its ideological tilt.

At a time when the other two branches of government are scraping bottom with record-low approval ratings, isn’t it big news that a majority of Americans say they approve of how the court is handling its job? The Congress dropped to a 24 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup poll. The president, even with a recent upward surge, struggled to garner a 36 percent approval rating. But when the court recorded a trend-busting 51 percent approval rating, Gallup tried to belittle the accomplishment by labeling it a “slim” majority. That’s just the wrong spin, akin to sneering that baseball’s Colorado Rockies barely got into this year’s playoffs as the National League’s “wild card” team without noting that they bested 12 other teams and won 14 of their last 15 games to get there.

Look underneath the top-line job approval numbers and you see lots of encouraging news for conservatism. This right-leaning, Republican-influenced court is getting the approval of 41 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents. Any Republican incumbent officeholder getting those kinds of marks from voters in the other partisan camps would be easily reelected. Republican candidates for president need to be more aggressive in seeking credit for our party’s successful efforts to restrain a liberal, activist judiciary by appointing more conservative, strict-constructionist justices. Fred Thompson and the others need to reassure the electorate that they will keep the court headed in that direction. It’s one Republican success story that merits affirmation, early and often.

Even perceptions of the court’s ideological slant are encouraging. Only 47 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents feel the court is too conservative. This means that if Hillary Clinton wants to run on a platform of appointing more liberal judges, she’s got a lot of convincing to do, even in her own party. Such a move could even be her undoing. Right now, according to Gallup, 16 percent of Democrats say the court is “too liberal,” not too conservative. You give me an issue that takes away 15 percent or more of a Democrat’s base vote and I’ll beat that Democrat. Does anyone doubt that Hillary would appoint more liberal judges?

Gallup also finds that almost seven in 10 Americans (69 percent) say they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the judicial branch of government today. That’s as high as Gallup has recorded in any poll since 2002. Only 6 percent of Americans have “not very much” trust and confidence in the courts. That’s a point lower than a year ago. So if Republicans have messed up the courts and our justice system, as some Democrat politicians would ask the electorate to believe, the naysayers sure haven’t convinced many of their followers.

In retrospect, even the Gallup-hyped fact that more Americans than ever think the court is too conservative doesn’t mean too much by itself. It merely reflects the swelling ranks of liberals, but thankfully they haven’t come close to achieving even a “slim” majority status yet.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.