The public's conditional response to Supreme Court decisions

Timothy R. Johnson, Andrew D. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


To investigate the effect of the Supreme Court on public opinion, we offer the conditional response hypothesis based on a theory of Supreme Court legitimacy and a microlevel social-psychological theory of attitude formation. Together these theories predict that the Court may affect public opinion when it initially rules on a salient issue, but that subsequent decisions on the same issue will have little influence on opinion. To test our predictions, we analyze public opinion data before and after the Supreme Court ruled in a highly visible abortion case (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services [1989]) and before and after three key capital punishment rulings (Furman v. Georgia [1972], Gregg v. Georgia [1976], and McCleskey v. Kemp [1987]). The results suggest that our theory is not issue bound but is generally applicable to how the Supreme Court affects public opinion when it rules in highly salient cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-309
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1998


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