The Supreme Court, the Media, and Public Opinion: Comparing Experimental and Observational Methods, 45 J. Leg. Stud. 223 (2016)
Can Supreme Court rulings change Americans’ policy views? Prior experimental and observational studies come to conflicting conclusions because of methodological limitations. We argue that existing studies overlook the media’s critical role in communicating Court decisions and theorize that major decisions change Americans’ opinions most when the media offer one-sided coverage supportive of the Court majority. We fielded nationally representative surveys shortly before and after two major Supreme Court decisions on health care and immigration and connected our public opinion data with six major television networks’ coverage of each decision. We find that Court decisions can influence national opinion and increase support for policies the Court upholds as constitutional. These effects were largest among people who received one-sided information. To address selection concerns, we combined this observational study with an experiment and find that people who first heard about the Court decisions through the media and through the experiment responded in similar ways.