C-SPAN Poll Finds Viewers Want Their Courtroom TV


A majority of respondents to a C-SPAN poll say they want televised coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments, and a majority of those say the court should be televised even if news outlets use the footage to sensationalize the arguments.

That is according to the results of online interviews with 1,512 registered voters.

Actually, only 24% strongly agreed that the court should allow TV coverage of oral arguments, but another somewhat agreed, totaling 63% that were either inclined or very inclined, with even more added to that total after a follow-up question was asked of the naysayers.

Of those initial 63% who agreed, more than half (56%) said they still agreed even if TV news outlets “take clips from oral arguments that are out of context and sensationalize small portions of entire oral arguments.” The other 44% said they would have second thoughts. The answers they had to choose from were “Yes, I still agree that oral arguments should be televised,” or “No, I now have second thoughts about televising oral arguments,” so there is no way of telling how strong the “no” answers were.

The survey followed up with the 37% who said they disagreed (either strongly or somewhat) with allowing TV coverage to see if they could be persuaded. Asked whether knowing that “oral arguments concerning cases before the Supreme Court have always been open to the public, but seating is extremely limited and the hearings are in Washington D.C. would make them change their minds, 60% said they then strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with TV coverage. That boosts the original figure of those who support TV coverage to over 80%.

One reason those respondents registered their votes for TV coverage was that 61% of them say they hear too little about the court but that what they do hear comes from TV. Three quarters said that they get at least some of their information from TV. The next highest was newspapers at 53%, followed by online (39%).

Some two thirds (68%) said they had watched some part of the televised confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee for new associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but with televised hearings not yet held for nominee Elena Kagan (they start June 28), that name was below the radar screen for most. Only 19% came up with her name when asked to identify the newest nominee to the court.

Attention Supreme Court Justices: 49% of the respondents said they thought television would increase their respect for court proceedings, to only 16% saying they would decrease that respect.

The study was from Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, LLC, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.52.

C-SPAN has long pushed for televised coverage of federal appeals courts, as there is in many state courts.