Kansas Supreme Court gets highest of low approval ratings in poll

Kansas Supreme Court justices prepare to hear oral arguments in a case last year.
Kansas Supreme Court justices prepare to hear oral arguments in a case last year. File photo

The Kansas Supreme Court is the most popular government institution in Kansas – or maybe just the least unpopular – according to a poll that found Kansans are very dissatisfied with both state and federal institutions.

A survey from Fort Hays State University of 440 Kansans found that 45 percent of respondents were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the state’s high court. The results were released Monday and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

A third of the poll’s respondents said they were neutral on the court, while the rest were either somewhat or very dissatisfied.

By comparison, 25 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the Kansas Legislature and 21 percent said they were satisfied with Gov. Sam Brownback; 61 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with Legislature and 69 percent said they were dissatisfied with the governor.

That’s less popular than President Obama, who had an approval rating of 34 percent and a disapproval rating of 60 percent.

One thing that may account for the court’s greater popularity is poll respondents’ support for school funding. The same poll showed that 77 percent of respondents think school funding should increase. The court ruled earlier that month that school funding is inequitable between districts and called on the Legislature to fix it before July.

Both the governor and state lawmakers can take solace in the fact that they were more popular than the U.S. Congress, which only 12 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who stands for re-election this year, had a job satisfaction rating of 38 percent. Another 33 percent said they were dissatisfied with the Hays Republican, while the rest were neutral.

Kansans split on Scalia replacement

Poll respondents were evenly divided on whether the president should appoint a replacement to the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died two weeks ago.

Senate Republican leaders have said they will block any nominee that Obama sends to the Senate, contending that the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by the next president.

Forty-six percent of respondents said the vacancy should be filled now; 45 percent said it should happen after the next president takes office in January. The rest were undecided.

Immigration and refugees

The poll offered mixed results on immigration and refugees.

Fifty-three percent of respondents support offering a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants from Latin America who have no criminal record.

Another 23 percent said the country should deport all illegal immigrants, while the rest either supported deporting some or most illegal immigrants.

Respondents are less willing to welcome refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East, with 51 percent saying they were either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed to allowing Middle Eastern refugees to resettle in Kansas.

Another 36 percent said they supported allowing refugees to settle in Kansas.

States don’t have the power to block refugees, but Brownback has ordered state agencies to not assist federal agencies in resettling refugees that “present a safety and security risk to the State of Kansas” in the wake of last year’s terrorist attack in Paris, in which some of the suspects are thought to have posed as refugees.

Concern about taxes, economy

Kansans are not confident about the state of the national economy, according to the poll, which found that 55 percent of respondents thought the U.S. economy was either somewhat weak or very weak.

Only 1 percent of respondents said that they thought the economy was very strong, while another 27 percent said they thought it was somewhat strong.

The results come even though the last two years saw the strongest national gain in jobs since the late 1990s, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A majority of poll respondents want to increase federal taxes on top earners and large corporations, 61 percent and 57 percent respectively.

Respondents were dead opposed to tax hikes on the middle class and small businesses, on the other hand, with 96 percent saying that tax rates for the middle class should either be decreased or stay the same and 92 percent saying they opposed tax increases for small businesses.

The poll was conducted between Feb. 19 and 26 by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University and paid for by the university and newspapers across the state, including The Eagle.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3