Widespread Public Support for Campaign Finance Reform

by David W. Moore

But Americans rank issue among least important, despite dissatisfaction with current campaign finance laws

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the U.S. Senate begins debate this week on campaign finance reform, a review of Gallup polls on the issue shows that Americans are quite dissatisfied with current campaign finance laws and generally support efforts to limit campaign contributions to political parties. However, among twenty issues facing this country, campaign finance reform is rated among the least important that Americans want the Congress and the president to address this year -- with education, healthcare, the economy, Social Security and Medicare, crime, taxes, energy and the environment among those rated as more important.

The debate in the next two weeks will be over several proposals, all of which limit, to some extent, the amount of money that Americans and American businesses can contribute to political parties -- so-called "soft money" -- that allows parties to indirectly support candidates running for office. One proposal, by Senators John McCain (R) of Arizona and Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, would ban all such soft money contributions, while a proposal by Senator Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska would only limit the amount of such contributions. President George W. Bush has agreed to support campaign finance reform, by banning soft money contributions from corporations and labor unions but not individuals.

A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted March 9-11, shows widespread public support for some type of limit on campaign contributions. By a margin of 76% to 19%, Americans favor "new federal laws limiting the amount of money that any individual or group can contribute to the national political parties," with 51% saying they favor the idea "strongly" and 25% "moderately." Also, 59% of Americans say that if new campaign finance reform legislation were passed, it would make our democratic form of government work better than it does now, while only 5% say worse, and 32% say it wouldn't matter.

These views are reinforced by a Gallup poll conducted January 10-14 of this year, which shows that only 23% of Americans are satisfied with the country's campaign finance laws, while 56% are dissatisfied. These numbers give campaign finance a net dissatisfaction index of - 33 percentage points, tied for third worst among twenty issues rated in that poll.

Campaign Finance Reform Not High Priority, But Public Open to Reform Efforts Now
Despite this widespread dissatisfaction with current laws and support for efforts to pass new campaign finance reform legislation, Americans do not see this issue among the most important that should be immediately addressed. Indeed, President George W. Bush himself does not welcome the Senate debate on campaign finance reform over the next two weeks, as he would prefer to focus on issues more central to his presidential campaign, such as education and taxes, which also happen to have greater salience with the general public. But Senator John McCain has forced the campaign finance issue in the Senate, and has even vowed to shut down all business of the Senate if it does not complete the process within the next two weeks.

Despite the high priority that McCain places on campaign finance, over the past several years Americans have consistently rated this issue among the least important, both among election campaign issues influencing their vote and among policy matters to be addressed by the president and Congress. An example of this low salience is found in the January Gallup poll, when just 16% of respondents cited campaign finance as an "extremely" important issue, with another 26% saying "very" important -- for a total importance index of 42%, ranking this issue second from last among 19 issues rated.

The current CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll provides a different insight: While just over half (54%) of Americans say that passing new campaign reform laws is important for our democratic system, about four in 10 (41%) take the position that the president and Congress should not take time to address campaign finance reform when there are more pressing problems to deal with. However, only 21% feel strongly about not addressing campaign finance reform now, suggesting that, while most Americans would not themselves give high priority to this issue, they are not likely to be upset that the Senate does so.

Public More Likely to Take Its Cue on Finance Reform from McCain than Bush
McCain's efforts in the Senate may be bolstered by poll results showing that Americans are more likely to say they prefer McCain's approach to campaign reform over Bush's approach, by 43% to 33%. Among people who are following the issue closely, the margin is even more pronounced, 53% to 36%.

McCain's support comes from independents and Democrats, as Republicans give a two-to-one vote of confidence for Bush over McCain (54% to 27%), while independents express more support for McCain's over Bush's approach (by 44% to 30%), as do Democrats (56% to 19%). Despite these partisan differences on whose approach is preferred, there are very little differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issue itself -- whether to limit soft money contributions, whether it would make the democratic system work better, and whether it is worthwhile for the president and Congress to address the problem now.

Survey Methods

Current results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18+, conducted March 9-10, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

. When it comes to dealing with campaign finance reform, whose approach do you prefer -- [ROTATED: George W. Bush (or) John McCain]?

 


Bush


McCain

SAME/BOTH (vol.)

NEITHER
(vol.)

No
opinion

           

2001 Mar 9-11

33%

43

1

3

20



Would you favor or oppose new federal laws limiting the amount of money that any individual or group can contribute to the national political parties? (Do you feel strongly or moderately about that?)

 

Strongly Favor

Moderately favor

Moderately oppose

Strongly oppose

No
opinion

           

2001 Mar 9-11

51%

25

10

9

5



In general, if new campaign finance reform legislation were passed, do you think it would make our democratic form of government work -- [ROTATED: much better than it does now, just a little better, about the same, just a little worse, (or) much worse than it does now]?

 

Much
better

A little better

About the same

A little worse

Much
worse

No
opinion

             

2001 Mar 9-11

22%

37

32

3

2

4



Which comes closer to your point of view about campaign finance reform -- [ROTATED: it is important to the way our democracy works for the Congress and the president to pass new campaign finance reform laws, (or) Congress and the president should not take the time to address campaign finance reform when there are more pressing problems to deal with]? (Do you feel strongly or moderately about that?)

 

 

 

Congress and the president pass new campaign finance reform laws

Congress and the president should not take time to address campaign finance reform



No
opinion


Strongly


Moderately


Moderately


Strongly

           

2001 Mar 9-11

30%

24

20

21

5



How closely have you followed the debate over campaign finance -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not closely at all?

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not closely
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 Mar 9-11

10%

39

31

20

*

*Less than 0.5%

         


Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/1885/Widespread-Public-Support-Campaign-Finance-Reform.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030