After the supreme word: the effect of U.S. Supreme Court decisions on public opinion
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This project explores the role that the United States Supreme Court plays in shaping public opinion. Previous scholars have successfully demonstrated that political elites influence public opinion, but those researching the Court's influence on attitude change have reached mixed findings. I build on previous work in three important ways. First, I employ a method of attributing attitude change to the Court that is a theoretical and empirical improvement over previous ways of identifying those who should be influenced by the justices, "reception" of cases. By "reception", I mean whether an individual understands the Court's decisions. Second, I place Court decisions within the broader information environment that includes the cues sent to the public by other political elites. These cues may reinforce or undermine the justices' decision, which could amplify or undercut the effect of receiving cases on attitude change. Third, I take advantage of recent work on the dynamics of attitude change by interacting reception with one's relevant pre-existing beliefs and personal characteristics. To test these assertions, I use a mixed method, multi-case design that combines existing survey research with original data collected from a quasi-experiment conducted in summer 2005. The results indicate that under certain conditions, receiving Court decisions is associated with attitude change on the issues involved in the cases. This project closes with several suggestions for future research including how to refine reception as a method of attributing attitude change to the Court.