Though Alabamians’ regard for the three branches of the federal government has declined since 2008, more than half of the state’s voters still have confidence in the Supreme Court and the presidency, a new statewide poll shows.
Only a third feel that way about the U.S. Congress, however.
Far and away, the institution in which Alabama voters have the most confidence is the U.S. military, according to the same poll.
The Alabama Education Association’s Capital Survey Research Center conducted the “Confidence in National Institutions Survey” on April 2-4 and April 8-9 among 606 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
The voters were asked to express the degree of confidence they had in nearly three dozen institutions that included branches of government as well as lobbying groups, humanitarian organizations, broadcast networks and newspapers, political parties, corporations, unions and governmental programs.
Ninety-four percent of the surveyed voters said they had a “great deal of confidence” or “some confidence” in the U.S. military, a number that partly reflects the military’s role in the protracted conflicts the nation has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, according to research center figures, that confidence level was 92 percent.
More than 41,000 members of the military who claim Alabama as their legal residence have been deployed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many of them have been Alabama National Guard members who have more than one overseas assignment. In addition, the proportion of veterans in the state population – 8 percent – is slightly higher than the national average.
The United Way and the Red Cross, both of which have had higher profiles in Alabama in recent years partly because of their response to the devastating tornadoes of 2011, were paired together in the survey and came in second to the military on the confidence scale. Seventy-eight percent of the voters expressed a lot of confidence or some confidence in both organizations.
The U.S. Supreme Court was 20 points farther down the scale, with a 58 percent confidence rating. In 2008, according to the research center, the high court’s confidence rating was 68 percent. In this year’s survey, the court not only trailed the military and the Red Cross and United Way in the voters’ estimation, but also the Chamber of Commerce, Social Security, Medicare, the American Medical Association and the Fox News Channel. Fox, incidentally, had a higher confidence rating than any other media entity listed in the poll.
The presidency, in which 66 percent of the voters expressed confidence in a 2008 survey, registered a 52 percent confidence rating in the latest poll, narrowly trailing such entities as the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition and ABC, CBS and NBC news.
Weld asked Capital Survey Research Center Director Gerald Johnson, a former Auburn political science professor, to provide some perspective on the level of confidence that voters expressed in the Supreme Court and the presidency. The question was prompted by the state’s history of governors and other political leaders railing against federal judges for legislating from the bench, and by the state’s strong votes against Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“Consistently, over the years, the Supreme Court has been held in relatively high esteem in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary in the state,” Johnson said in an email. “There is a mystique — a reverence applied to the Supreme Court and, in part, to the Presidency — a sense they are somewhat above politics.”
The U.S. Congress, polarized and seemingly paralyzed over issues such as government spending, gun control, entitlement programs and the role of government in general, has not been terribly popular and nationwide surveys have put its approval rating in the teens. In the AEA poll, Alabama voter confidence in Congress was not in the teens, but its 32 percent rating was far below that given to the other two federal governmental branches. Only 4 percent of the voters who made up that 32 precent said they had a lot of confidence in Congress. Professional unions also received a 32 percent rating. Conservative talk radio shows, 33 percent, and Wall Street, the Tea Party, newspapers and industrial unions were one or more points higher.
Only social media, with a 29 percent confidence rating, came in lower.
The survey also showed the federal government as a whole with a 43 percent confidence rating, but only 9 percent of the surveyed voters expressed a lot of confidence in Uncle Sam. Congressional Democrats and Republicans each received confidence ratings of 41 percent, with 15 percent of voters saying they had a lot of confidence in the Democrats and only six percent expressing the same regard for the Republicans. Almost identical numbers of voters expressed the same set of sentiments for the two political parties.