Public opinion survey shows slight improvement for state courts during challenging times
December 20, 2023 -- Public opinion reflects continuing challenges for courts and for all institutions of government—but with some glimmers of optimism for the future, according to the 2023 State of the State Courts annual public opinion survey released today by NCSC.
The 2023 survey shows that 61 percent of respondents expressed some or a great deal of confidence in state courts, up one percentage point from the 2022 survey. The good news? This is the first year since 2019 that the confidence barometer doesn’t show a drop.
On several key attributes of state courts, the public is slightly more optimistic than a year ago. The percentage of those who said the state courts are fair and impartial, treat people with dignity and respect, listen carefully to those before them, and serve as an appropriate check on other branches of government increased by four points compared to a year ago; the percentage of those who said the state courts are unbiased in their case decisions increased 5 percent.
“If you squint, you can see some glimmers of hope that the public is feeling a greater sense of trust and confidence than it has in the last number of years,” said Jesse Rutledge, Vice President for Public Affairs at NCSC and project director on the annual survey work.
Rutledge also noted that there remain several areas of acute concern for the public, and that the survey quantifies what NCSC has heard in several focus groups held around the country earlier this year.
“Many Americans express concern that there are two systems of justice—one for those with money, power, and political influence—and one for everyone else,” said Rutledge. “That feeling manifests in our survey data, in which we see more Americans saying courts do not provide equal justice to all than those who say courts do provide equal justice for all.”
The survey also shows that the number of Americans who think the courts are political has grown in recent years, with 61 percent saying “political” describes courts well or very well. That number is up from 53 percent in 2021.
The tenth annual survey also reveals that more Americans are willing to use video to appear in court. That number is now 63 percent, or nearly two in three, up 20 percentage points since 2014. The percentage includes 60 percent of people over 50 years old, suggesting attitudes toward remote appearances do not differ much between the generations.
The survey questionnaire is developed by GBAO Strategies, in consultation with a steering committee of court leaders and NCSC staff. This year’s online poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters between November 16 and 19.
Save the Date: February Jury System Management Workshop in Texas
Join NCSC and the Travis County District Clerk’s Office for a Jury System Management Workshop February 14 to 16, in Austin, Texas.
During the workshop, NCSC Center for Jury Studies Director Paula Hannaford-Agor will teach court managers and jury managers how to:
- Identify strengths/weaknesses in jury operations;
- Estimate operational and fiscal impacts from jury system improvements;
- Implement policies/procedures to prevent or respond to legal challenges; and
- Use tools, performance measures, and best practices to address problems.
Capacity is limited to 45 participants, and the cost is $595 per attendee. Courts are encouraged to bring teams if possible. Please complete the online interest form to be notified when registration opens. Email Laney Snyder for more information.