Americans are more or less split along partisan lines about the court battle over President Trump’s travel ban, according to a new poll released Tuesday by AP/NORC.
The poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe federal judges acted appropriately in putting the ban on hold while they consider its constitutionality, while 34 percent feel it’s an inappropriate infringement on executive power. But how they feel about the court battle correlates pretty strongly with whose side they’re on to begin with: 82 percent of Democrats said the courts acted appropriately, while 73 percent of Republicans said they didn’t. (Independents, for their part, are split; 56 percent believe the courts acted appropriately.)
The AP/NORC poll didn’t actually ask if Americans supported the ban or not, and how people feel about the court process might not perfectly reflect how they feel about the ban itself. (You can believe it’s appropriate for courts to step in to block policies they believe are unconstitutional and still think that in this case, they happened to make the wrong decision.)
Nonetheless, public opinion is polarized. That’s unsurprising. The travel ban was supposed to be one of Trump’s signature policy accomplishments; when an earlier version of the ban was blocked after a week and the current version never went into effect at all, it became one of his most embarrassing setbacks. It makes sense that the way Americans feel about the court battle correlates strongly with how they feel about President Trump and his policy agenda.
Partisanship also colors Americans’ understanding of why the ban was put in place to begin with — though not entirely.
The overwhelming majority of Republicans agree that the administration’s stated purpose for the travel ban — national security — was in fact a “major reason” Trump signed the executive order. Democrats are more likely to believe that banning Muslims from entering the US motivated the ban: 64 percent of them cite it as a major reason.
But for some Americans, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. At least 12 percent of Americans — including at least 21 percent of Republicans and at least 16 percent of independents — feel that banning Muslims and protecting national security were both major reasons for the executive order.
Not all of those people necessarily believe that Muslims are inherently a threat to national security. But given the level of Islamophobia in America, at least some of them likely do. It’s that sentiment to which Trump appealed when he initially proposed, back in 2015, a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of the attack in San Bernardino, California.
The president’s lawyers (if not necessarily the president himself) have spent months arguing exhaustively that the executive order now being weighed in court is a totally different proposal from the one Trump mooted on the campaign trail. The critics of the travel ban, meanwhile, have dismissed that distinction.
So far, the courts have agreed with the critics in opposing the travel ban. And at least a few Americans appear to agree — as a reason to support it.
So if the Supreme Court is looking to the court of public opinion for guidance, they’re not getting a whole lot of answers.