The Supreme Court’s (Surprising?) Indifference to Public Opinion

Political Research Quarterly

35 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2018 Last revised: 28 Oct 2020

See all articles by Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Penn State Law School (University Park)

Logan Strother

Purdue University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: September 3, 2019


Does the Supreme Court care what the public thinks? For decades, articles in leading political science journals have consistently answered in the affirmative. They regularly report a significant, positive relationship between public opinion and Supreme Court output. Given this accepted empirical fact, attention has turned to how or when public opinion affects the Court. Theories that attempt to answer these questions, however, face unresolved challenges: the mechanisms are left unexplained, and the studies are mutually contradictory. We advance this literature by showing that the empirical “fact” driving the search for a workable theory is actually ephemeral. To be clear, we do not attempt to prove the Court does not respond to public opinion. We do demonstrate, however, that contrary to twenty-five years of scholarship, there is no good empirical evidence suggesting it does. Doing so returns the field to the central question of whether opinion matters.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Public Opinion, Judicial Politics, Empirical Legal Studies

JEL Classification: K00, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Ben and Strother, Logan, The Supreme Court’s (Surprising?) Indifference to Public Opinion (September 3, 2019). Political Research Quarterly, Available at SSRN: or

Ben Johnson (Contact Author)

Penn State Law School (University Park) ( email )

201 Shields Building
University Park, PA 16802-1294
United States

Logan Strother

Purdue University - Department of Political Science ( email )

100 North University Street
West Lafayette, IN
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics