Americans Prefer Presidential Candidates to Forgo Public Funding

by Lydia Saad

Most believe record money-chase won't result in a worse or better president

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With presidential candidates able to raise and spend so much more money by relying on private donations than they can by accepting federal matching funds with spending limits, some believe the nation's system of public financing of presidential election campaigns is on the brink. But a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted April 13-15, 2007, suggests the American public would not be distressed if it did collapse.

Perhaps "public financing" sounds like an expensive burden on taxpayers; maybe the alternative of allowing candidates to "spend whatever money they can raise on their own" sounds like the "American way." Whatever the reason, a solid majority of Americans would prefer to see presidential candidates raise all their own money.

Among the leading Republican and Democratic contenders for the 2008 presidential election, none is opting in to the federal financing system for the nomination phase of the campaign. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain recently made a pact that, should they each win their respective party's nomination, they would accept public financing for the general election.

But while that deal could spare the candidates valuable time and effort next fall that would otherwise go into massive fundraising, the USA Today/Gallup data suggest it will win little public applause.

Spiraling Campaign Receipts Don't Alarm Americans

By one estimate, the major candidates for the 2008 presidential election could raise an estimated $500 million apiece on their campaigns, significantly more than the roughly $350 million George W. Bush and John Kerry each raised in the 2004 election.

Nevertheless, Americans do not think the increased campaign fundraising will greatly alter the quality of the next president. When asked in the April 13-15 poll what the effect "record amounts of money being raised by the candidates for the 2008 presidential election" will have, only 20% say it will result in a "worse president." That's more than the 9% saying it will produce a "better" president; but two-thirds say the money won't make a difference.

When asked which of three approaches for financing presidential campaigns is better -- public financing only (something the courts would likely prohibit as a violation of free speech rights), private financing only, or a combination of the two (the current system) -- only 22% of Americans opt for complete public financing.  The plurality (46%) choose complete private financing and another 28% choose the combination.

Partisan Agreement

There is virtually no difference in Republican and Democratic views on whether presidential candidates should agree to take public financing: A majority of both groups say candidates should opt to spend whatever they can raise on their own. Although Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say record fundraising amounts will result in a better president being elected, majorities of both agree it will likely not make a difference.

Only on the preferred method for financing campaigns is a sizable difference seen between the parties. The plurality or majority of both groups tend to favor private funding of campaigns; however, Republicans are a bit more likely than Democrats to favor a private-financing only system.

Gallup sees greater differences in views on these questions according to respondents' income and educational attainment, with those with higher incomes and more advanced education more supportive of public financing.

Should Candidates Take Public Financing or Not?
By Respondents' Education

April 13-15, 2007

Postgrad/
College graduate

Some
college

No
college

%

%

%

Agree to take public financing

55

35

29

Opt not to take public financing and spend whatever they can raise

41

59

66

Should Candidates Take Public Financing or Not?
By Respondents' Household Income

April 13-15, 2007

$75,000+

$30,000-
$74,999

Less than
$30,000

%

%

%

Agree to take public financing

48

41

29

Opt not to take public financing and spend whatever they can raise

52

53

65

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 13-15, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum 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.

For results based on the 506 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 501 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

Turning now to the issue of campaign finance,

Q.17-18 SPLIT SAMPLED

17. As you may know, to fund their campaigns, candidates for president can receive public financing from the federal government if they agree to limits on spending, or they can opt not to take public financing and spend whatever money they can raise on their own.  What do you think candidates should do -- [ROTATED: agree to take public financing and accept spending limits, (or) opt not to take public financing and spend whatever money they can raise on their own]?

BASED ON 506 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A       

Agree to take
public financing

Opt not to take
public financing

No
opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 13-15

39%

56

4

18. Which of the following do you think would be the best way to finance presidential campaigns -- [ROTATED: a system of public financing funded by the federal government, a system of private financing funded by donations from individuals and political groups, as well as the candidate's own money], or a combination of the two?

BASED ON 501 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

Public
funding

Private
funding

Combination
of the two

OTHER
(vol.)

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2007 Apr 13-15

22%

46

28

2

3

(vol.) = Volunteered response

19. All in all, do you think the record amounts of money being raised by candidates for the 2008 presidential election means the United States will elect a better president, a worse president, or will it not make a difference?

Better
president

Worse
president

No
difference

No
 opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Apr 13-15

9%

20

68

3

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27394/Americans-Prefer-Presidential-Candidates-Forgo-Public-Funding.aspx
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