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Understanding Public Confidence in American Courts


Sara C. Benesh is assistant professor of political science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413.


While studies of public confidence in institutions have long been a part of the public opinion literature, systematic analysis of public confidence in America’s lower courts has been missing. This is troubling, especially since support for the rule of law is integral to a democracy and support for courts essential to the operation of the rule of law. I offer an explanation of public support for lower courts, finding that experience with courts, perceptions regarding the fairness of court procedures, and choices made over institutional design all play a role in explaining the public’s support for state courts.