DHM Research

American Justice: Another Partisan Issue

DHM Panel January Survey Results

February 28, 2020

Like many other issues, Oregonians’ opinions about the justice system are growing more and more partisan. Whether we trust the FBI, Supreme Court, or our local police department, is now more closely related to how we identify politically than anything else.

These findings come from the January 2020 fielding of our DHM Panel. The survey was conducted from January 28 to February 4, 2020 and surveyed 552 Oregonians. The results were weighted by age, gender, area of the state, political party, and level of education to ensure a representative sample of Oregon residents. The margin of error for this survey is ±4.17%.

Oregonians are divided about several aspects of the justice system.

DHM Panelists rated their level of confidence in several aspects of the American justice system. They reported the highest levels of confidence in their local police department, with 74% saying that there are very or somewhat confident. This was followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with 67% confidence. However, even at these relatively high levels, between 23%–44% of Oregonians lack confidence in key law enforcement agencies. These are notably high percentages considering the level of power we grant these agencies.

Among the agencies tested, Oregonians have the least confidence in the US Supreme Court. Only a slim majority (54%) said that they are confident in the Supreme Court, with 44% not confident.

Bar chart showing Oregonians' confidence in the Justice System by agency.

Oregonians’ confidence in the FBI and the Supreme Court has declined as these agencies have been tied to intense political battle.

The FBI became wrapped up partisan politics in 2016, when many Democrats were angered by the way it handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; Republicans have frequently complained about its role investigating Russia’s election interference.

The politization of the Supreme Court goes back further than 2016, only intensifying when the Senate denied hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and when President Trump made two appointments to the Court.

Consequently, Oregonians’ are now less confident in both the FBI and Supreme Court. And more significantly, Democrats and Republicans opinions have diverged.

Since 2016, between 60%–68% of Oregonians have reported being confident in the FBI. However, what looks like relative stability masks large changes in attitudes by party. In 2017, the partisan gap was just one percentage point. By 2019, it grew to 41 points. It moderated in 2020 and now sits at 17 points, with 73% of Democrats confident compared to 57% of Republicans.

Oregonians’ confidence ratings of the Supreme Court have fallen from 57% in 2017 to 52% in 2020. However, feelings among Democrats and Republicans have moved in opposite directions. Confidence has increased by 16 points among Republicans (55% to 71%) but has fallen a whopping 34 points among Democrats (66% to 32%).

Line chart showing Oregonians' changes in confidence in the FBI and Supreme Court.

Confidence that our justice system is fair to all is key to a successful democracy. The diversion in confidence that Democrats and Republicans have in federal law enforcement and courts should concern us all.