Politics, Spring 2016 Articles, Supreme Court

Students’ Disinterest with Scalia and Supreme Court

by Jacqueline Gonzalez

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away of a heart attack on February 13th in a resort in West Texas. His surprising death left the Supreme Court of the United States with eight justices, equally split half conservative, half liberal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out quickly on behalf of Senate Republicans, stating they would not even hear a nomination from President Barack Obama. This unprecedented motion from Senator McConnell spurred support from Republicans across the country, leaving the Supreme Court, and the country, uncertain about its future.

Antonin Scalia, notorious for his strict interpretation of the constitution and eloquent dissents, was the longest serving justice at 30 years. To a political junkie, he was well known, but to everyone else, he may as well have not existed, with only 16 percent recognition in a 2012 poll. The Supreme Court has traditionally been an institution held with high regard in the past. But was it held to high regards because everyone admires the Supreme Court for its unbiased decisions on landmark court cases? Or was it because the most unaffiliated branch of the United States has a tendency to stay out of the public opinion? Regardless, the Supreme Court has recently been spiraling towards unfavorability, and could become worse because of the slow partisanship that is looming over them. Could the politics over the open supreme court seat tarnish it’s unbiased reputation?

PackPoll decided to ask NC State students for their insight into Former Associate Justice Scalia and the Supreme Court. When asked if they held a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Scalia, 57 percent said they had no opinion, whereas only 23 percent said favorable or very favorable. In a week’s worth of media coverage, the number of students who had no opinion was impressive. It is hard to distinguish how many students actually had no opinion of him, or simply did not care. However it could be assumed the latter would certainly outweigh the former.

Respondents were then asked to name the Chief Justice and half were asked to answer the question without looking it up, in order to gauge whether or not it would affect student’s knowledge. The results were staggering. In the non-prompt question, 40 percent had no idea and rather than admitting they did not know, 12 percent just guessed the wrong justice. In the prompted question, similar answers: 48 percent had no idea, and 18 percent guessed the wrong justice. It is interesting to note that when prompted not to cheat, students failed to pick the right answer; their amount of guessing increased. It is also worth noting that the percentage of students that picked “I don’t know” diminished by 8 percent. Perhaps prompting students not to cheat pushes them out of their apathetic shell. Perhaps the students, being the social animals that they are, felt the need to choose an answer to avoid personal embarrassment. NC State’s knowledge of the Supreme Court closely mirrors that of all the citizens of the US, which is not that much.

It is important to recognize the lack of knowledge that students at NC State, and citizens of the United States, have in regards to the Supreme Court. Without a doubt, every student has heard of the Supreme Court, but more detailed knowledge is lacking. The Supreme Court has been an institution that often stays out of the public eye, and has been an institution revered for its isolation. But with media attention to controversial court decision and the partisan sparring about the next appointment, could it be assumed that the less NC State students know of it, the better?

NOTE ON METHODOLOGY:  This “flash poll” took place February 23-25, 2016. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 3,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 22% response rate for completed surveys (and 25% for partially completed). Sampling error is +/-3.5% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in this survey because we did not ask about known student demographics such as year in school or gender.

Click here to see a PDF file for the full set of results: Scaliatoplines

Feel free to email us if you have any questions.

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