Public (Mis)Perceptions of Supreme Court Ideology A Method for Directly Comparing Citizens and Justices

Public (Mis)Perceptions of Supreme Court Ideology A Method for Directly Comparing Citizens and Justices

By
Stephen Jessee, Neil Malhotra
Public Opinion Quarterly. May
21, 2013, Vol. 77, Issue 2, Pages 619-634

Do people accurately perceive the Supreme Court’s ideology in relation to their own positions? Which types of people are most likely to misperceive? Answering these questions is important for understanding the basis of public support for the Supreme Court. To do so requires placing the public and the Supreme Court on a common ideological scale. This study represents the first attempt to do so. We ask respondents how they would have voted on a set of cases recently decided by the Court, meaning that we can generate a comparable set of ideal points for both masses and elites in a common space. We find that the Court is generally representative of mass opinion and that most citizens have accurate perceptions of the Court. However, we also find that people are substantially more likely to misperceive the Court as being too liberal than too conservative.