HPU Poll: North Carolinians Have Complex Views of Their State Courts

HIGH POINT, N.C., Nov. 19, 2015 – What do North Carolinians think about their state court system?

That’s the focus of a recent High Point University poll. The HPU Poll found that, overall, majorities of those surveyed believe that state courts are accomplishing certain things well, such as protecting citizens’ rights and making decisions based on fact. Other majorities, however, express concern about the time courts take to resolve cases and whether or not people can afford to bring a case to court. Respondents are also split on whether N.C. courts are responsive to average citizens and are handling cases efficiently.

A majority of respondents to the survey (63 percent) said that they agreed or strongly agreed that courts are concerned with and protect people’s rights (62 percent). Sixty percent agreed or strongly agreed that courts make decisions based on fact. Similarly, large majorities of people disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statements that cases are resolved in a timely manner (63 percent) and most people can afford to bring a case to court (73 percent). Fifty-eight percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the assertion that the media’s portrayal of courts is accurate.

There were no clear majorities on whether courts listen to what people say, are sensitive to the needs of the average person, or handle cases efficiently from when they are filed to either trial or disposition.

“These findings show where perceptions of courts are positive but also where the opinion of state courts could improve,” said Dr. Martin Kifer, director of the HPU Poll and assistant professor of political science. “Policymakers may look at these findings to inform their judgments about where the courts may need additional attention.”

The HPU Poll found that a sizable majority – 61 percent of respondents – said they knew a lot or some about the courts in North Carolina. Forty-five percent said their overall opinion of the courts was excellent, very good or good while 41 percent said fair or poor.

Only about one-fifth (19 percent) of respondents said that the state of North Carolina spends too much on state courts. About a quarter (24 percent) said the state spends the right amount and 26 percent said the state does not spend enough.

“North Carolinians overall say they know at least something about their courts and are not concerned about the state over-spending in this area,” says Brian McDonald, assistant director of the HPU Poll and adjunct instructor.

The HPU Poll included questions suggested by the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, an independent commission convened earlier this year by Chief Justice Mark Martin of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

The commission is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of the state judicial system to make recommendations for strengthening the courts within existing administrative framework. The commission will share its findings and recommendations in a series of reports to be made available to the public in early 2017.

All adults – Opinion about Local Courts (November 2015)

Overall, what is your opinion of your local courts? Would you say they are excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?HPU Poll - Opinion of Local Courts - Nov. 2015

Excellent – 2 percent

Very good – 11 percent

Good – 32 percent

Fair – 25 percent

Poor – 16 percent

Don’t know/refused – 14 percent

(All adult (North Carolina resident) sample surveyed November 7 – 12, n = 610 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

All adults – Knowledge of North Carolina Courts (November 2015)

How much would you say you know about the courts in North Carolina?  A lot; Some; A little; or Nothing at all? HPU Poll - Knowledge of N.C. Courts - Nov. 2015

A lot – 15 percent

Some – 46 percent

A little – 29 percent

Nothing at all – 9 percent

Don’t know/refused – 2 percent

(All adult (North Carolina resident) sample surveyed November 7 – 12, n = 610 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

All adults – Perceptions of North Carolina Courts (November 2015)

Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statements about North Carolina courts?

Courts are concerned with people’s rights

Strongly agree – 5 percent
Agree – 58 percent
Disagree – 21 percent
Strongly disagree – 6 percent
Don’t know/refused – 10 percent

Courts protect people’s rights

Strongly agree – 7 percent
Agree – 55 percent
Disagree – 23 percent
Strongly disagree – 5 percent
Don’t know/refused – 11 percent

Courts make decisions based on fact

Strongly agree – 6 percent
Agree – 54 percent
Disagree – 25 percent
Strongly disagree – 6 percent
Don’t know/refused – 10 percent

Courts listen to what people say

Strongly agree – 3 percent
Agree – 41 percent
Disagree – 35 percent
Strongly disagree – 8 percent
Don’t know/refused – 13 percent

Courts are sensitive to needs of the average citizen

Strongly agree – 4 percent
Agree – 38 percent
Disagree – 38 percent
Strongly disagree – 8 percent
Don’t know/refused – 12 percent

Courts efficiently handle cases from filing the case, to disposition or trial

Strongly agree – 2 percent
Agree – 42 percent
Disagree – 31 percent
Strongly disagree – 7 percent
Don’t know/refused – 19 percent

Cases are resolved in a timely manner

Strongly agree – 2 percent
Agree – 23 percent
Disagree – 47 percent
Strongly disagree – 16 percent
Don’t know/refused – 12 percent

Most people can afford to bring a case to court

Strongly agree – 3 percent
Agree – 15 percent
Disagree – 53 percent
Strongly disagree – 20 percent
Don’t know/refused – 9 percent

The media’s portrayal of the courts is accurate

Strongly agree – 2 percent
Agree – 24 percent
Disagree – 44 percent
Strongly disagree – 14 percent
Don’t know/refused – 17 percent

(All adult (North Carolina resident) sample surveyed November 7 – 12, n = 610 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

All adults – State Spending on North Carolina Courts (November 2015)

Do you feel that the state of North Carolina spends too much on state courts, spends about the right amount on state courts, or does not spend enough on state courts?

Spends too much – 19 percent

Spends the right amount – 24 percent

Does not spend enough – 26 percent

Don’t know/refused – 31 percent

(All adult (North Carolina resident) sample surveyed November 7 – 12, n = 610 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

The most recent HPU Poll was fielded by live interviewers at the High Point University Survey Research Center calling on Nov. 7 – 12, 2015. The responses from a sample of all North Carolina counties came from 610 adults with landline or cellular telephones. The Survey Research Center contracted with Survey Sampling International to acquire this sample. The survey has an estimated margin of sampling error of approximately 4 percentage points for all adult respondents. The data is weighted toward population estimates for cellular and landline telephone use, age, gender and race. In addition to sampling error, factors such as question wording and other methodological choices in conducting survey research can introduce additional error into the findings of opinion polls.

Further results and methodological details from the most recent survey and past studies can be found at the Survey Research Center website at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/. The materials online include past press releases as well as memos summarizing the findings (including approval ratings) for each poll since 2010. Details from this survey are available at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/files/2015/12/42memoC.pdf.

The HPU Poll reports methodological details in accordance with the standards set out by AAPOR’s Transparency Initiative, and the HPU Survey Research Center is a Charter Member of the Initiative. For more information, see http://transparency.aapor.org/index.php/transparency.

You can follow the HPU Poll on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HPUSurveyCenter.

Dr. Martin Kifer, assistant professor of political science, serves as the director of the HPU Poll, and Brian McDonald serves as the assistant director of the HPU Poll.

To view video of the HPU Survey Research Center, click here.

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