Change in institutional support for the US supreme court

James L. Gibson, Michael J. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Political pundits and scholars alike have recently noticed that public judgments of how well the US Supreme Court is doing its job have plummeted. Yet, the meaning of this drop for the larger legitimacy of the Court is not as clear as the poll data themselves. Some believe that dissatisfaction with the Court's rulings threatens the institution's legitimacy. Conventional legitimacy theory, on the other hand, posits a "reservoir of goodwill" through which the translation of dissatisfaction into lowered legitimacy is blocked. Positivity theory, with its focus on the legitimizing role of the symbols of judicial authority, provides at least a partial explanation of how legitimacy is maintained in the face of rising disappointment in the Court's rulings. Here, we focus specifically on the relationship between specific and diffuse support and the role judicial symbols play in undermining that connection, concluding that the Court's legitimacy is more secure than many imagine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-641
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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