Majority of Americans Favor Limiting "Soft Money"

by Wendy W. Simmons

Less than one third say changing campaign finance laws will make a difference

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to a Gallup poll conducted October 6-9, a sizeable majority of Americans (72%) would favor new federal laws limiting the amount of "soft money" -- contributions made to political parties rather than to specific candidates -- that individuals and groups may contribute. Twenty-four percent oppose the idea.

Republicans and Democrats Generally United on Limiting Soft Money
Although Senator John McCain used his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to highlight the importance of campaign finance reform, most Republican politicians have expressed concern about limiting or banning soft money altogether -- they assert that the Democratic Party would benefit from the legislation disproportionately. A majority of the public, however, disagrees. Almost 70% of Americans say they think that limits on soft money would affect the two parties equally. Majorities of both Republicans (71%) and Democrats (75%) favor limiting soft money. The issue has received considerable attention by both presidential candidates during the general campaign. In fact, Al Gore has proclaimed that if he is elected president, the first bill he sends to Congress will be the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Bill. This piece of legislation bans soft money altogether, as well as making a host of other changes in campaign finance law.

Public Doubtful that Campaign Finance Reform will make a Difference
Although there is widespread support for new legislation limiting soft money, most Americans are not convinced campaign finance reform would actually weaken the influence of special interests. Sixty-four percent of Americans say that whether major campaign finance legislation is passed or not, special interests will always find a way to maintain their power in Washington. On the other hand, 28% of Americans say that major changes to campaign finance laws could succeed in reducing the power of special interests. The public has become slightly more jaded on this issue over time. In 1997, 36% of the public said that major changes could dampen the effect of special interests, while 59% thought new legislation would not have an effect.

Those with the highest levels of education are the most likely to say that passing new laws could keep special interests in check. Forty percent of those with a post-graduate degree say that changes to campaign finance laws would reduce the influence of special interests, while just 21% of those without a high school degree say it would make a difference. There is very little difference in opinion between Republicans and Democrats on the potential for campaign finance laws to weaken the influence of special interests. Less than a third of both groups are optimistic about the effects of reform. Twenty-six percent of Republicans and 30% of Democrats say that major changes could reduce the power of special interests.

Despite general pessimism about the potential for legislation to mute the voices of special interests, most Americans think that efforts to limit the influence of money in government are important when weighed against the rights of individual contributors. Sixty-one percent of Americans say it is more important to protect the government from the excessive influence of campaign contributors, while 34% say that protecting the freedom of individuals to support candidates is more important.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1052 adults, 18 years and older, conducted October 6-9, 2000. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 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.

Next, we'd like to ask some questions about campaign finance.

Some people say major changes to the laws governing campaign finance could succeed in reducing the power of special interests in Washington. Other people say no matter what new laws are passed, special interests will always find a way to maintain their power in Washington. Which comes closer to your point of view?

 

Major changes could succeed in reducing power

Special interests will maintain power


NEITHER/
OTHER (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2000 Oct 6-9

28%

64

2

6

         

1998 Mar 20-22

31%

63

2

4

1997 Oct 3-5

36%

59

1

4



Thinking about any new campaign finance laws that might be passed, which of the following is more important to you -- [ROTATED: protecting the freedom of individuals to support political candidates and parties financially (or) protecting government from excessive influence by campaign contributors]?

 

Protecting the freedom of individuals

Protecting government from excessive influence

No opinion

       

2000 Oct 6-9

34%

61

5

       

1997 Oct 3-5

39%

56

5



As you may know, soft money is the amount of money that individuals, businesses and labor unions are legally allowed to contribute to the national political parties. Would you favor or oppose new federal laws limiting the amount of soft money that any individual or group can contribute to the national political parties?

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

       

2000 Oct 6-9

72%

24

4



Do you think campaign laws limiting soft money would -- [ROTATED: hurt the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party (or) hurt the Democratic Party more than Republican Party], or affect the two parties equally?

 

Hurt the Republican
Party more

Hurt the Democratic
Party more


Affect two
parties equally


No
opinion

         

2000 Oct 6-9

13%

12

69

6



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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/2425/Majority-Americans-Favor-Limiting-Soft-Money.aspx
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