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Poll: Trust lacking in Supreme Court over handling of key issues

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WASHINGTON — With major Supreme Court decisions on health care and same-sex marriage expected this month, many lack trust in the Supreme Court’s handling of those two issues, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

Yet most approve of the way the court is handling its job generally.

A majority, 52%, say they approve of the way the court is handling its job, while 41% disapprove. That’s an improvement from an even 48% to 48% split two years ago. Still, when Americans are asked how much they trust the court on a range of issues it will be considering this term or the next, the worst ratings come on health care and same-sex marriage. Only about half say they have at least a moderate amount of trust in the court on health care (50%) or same-sex marriage (49%). There is more faith in the Supreme Court on other key issues on the docket, with most saying they trust the court at least a moderate amount on freedom of speech (69%), voting rights (65%) and the death penalty (60%).

The court’s most recent rulings on same-sex marriage have tilted in favor of those who support legal marriages, a growing group among the American public. In this poll, 63% say they believe gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. Only 49% said that was a constitutional right as recently as 2010.

The nearly two-thirds who currently say there is a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry includes about three-quarters of Americans under age 50 (73%) and roughly half of those over age 50 (52%). Majorities of Democrats (74%) and independents (69%) see a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples, while only 35% of Republicans agree. There is a significant age gap among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, however, with 59% of those under age 50 saying same-sex couples do have a constitutional right to marry, compared with 36% of Republican-leaners age 50 or older.

On health care, the court upheld a key provision of the law in 2012 and is currently considering whether the law allows subsidies for low- and moderate-income families purchasing insurance through state-run exchanges. In the CNN/ORC poll, 43% of Americans say they favor the law overall, matching its previous high for support last reached in May 2013. But the law remains broadly unpopular, with 55% opposed to it.

Few say they would describe the law as a success thus far, only 11% say so in the poll, while 35% say it has been a failure and 53% say it’s too soon to make a judgment. That split is similar to Americans’ assessment of the law last year around this time, though slightly fewer call it a failure now (39% said so last year).

Supreme Court cases on same-sex marriage and the 2010 health care overhaul have been among the court’s most high-profile rulings in recent years, and opinions on those two issues divide views on the Supreme Court generally. Those who believe that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry largely approve of the court’s work, 60% approve while 35% disapprove, and those who say there is no such right mostly disapprove, 54% disapprove while 38% approve. Likewise, 61% of those who favor the 2010 health law approve of the way the court is handling its job, 33% disapprove. Among those opposed to the law, views are closely divided: 45% approve and 48% disapprove.

Likewise, Democrats, who are more apt to favor both same-sex marriage and the health care law, are more likely than Republicans to approve of the court’s work. Sixty percent of Democrats approve compared with 40% of Republicans. Independents tilt positive, 52% approve while 41% disapprove. By ideology, moderates actually give the court its best marks, 60% approve, compared with 53% of liberals and 41% of conservatives.

The issue divide carries through when Americans on both sides of the same-sex marriage and health care debates are asked how much they trust the court to handle each issue. On same sex marriage, 63% of those who see a constitutional right for gay or lesbian couples to marry say they trust the court at least a moderate amount on same-sex marriage. Among those who do not see such a right, just 25% have that much trust in the court. On health care, 64% who favor the law trust the court to handle health care policy, only 39% who are opposed to the 2010 law agree.

Public opinion tilts positive on Chief Justice John Roberts, with 33% holding a favorable opinion and 24% unfavorable. Still, a sizable 43% lack an opinion about him. Roberts’ favorable rating is down from 41% holding a positive view in 2012 just after the court upheld the individual mandate in 2010 health law. The decline comes almost entirely among Democrats: 51% held a favorable view then, just 35% do now.

The CNN/ORC poll was conducted by telephone May 29-31 among a random national sample of 1,025 adults.

By Jennifer Agiesta

CNN Polling Director