Too much money in politics, too much damage to democracy

January 11, 2016, 2:23 PM GMT+0

Most Americans want limits on outside spending during elections and think that donors try and buy political influence

Americans have never liked big spending on campaigns – they think there is too much of it, and are pretty sure that those who make big contributions expect something in return. But while the latest Economist/YouGov Poll suggests that Americans of all political persuasions would like laws that limit the campaign expenditures of unaffiliated groups like super PACs, there is not a lot of support for putting legal limits on another campaign “highlight” – all the political ads on television.

Suspicion about what even non-profit organizations that make political expenditures expect for their efforts is high. In 2010, the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures, meaning organizations could spend as much as they like. Most Americans would like to see that changed, and say they would support limiting such campaign advertising expenditures by law. Though they less likely than Democrats to support a law limiting super PACs, half of Republicans agree.

There is a sense that large political contributions involve a quid pro quo. By three to one, both Republicans and Democrats agree that when someone gives a large amount of money, like a million dollars, to a super PAC, they expect something in return and aren’t just making a political statement. And it isn’t just super PAC contributions, but campaign spending in general. Presidential candidates raise more money today than ever before, and by five to one, those with an opinion think that has made the nominating process worse, not better.

That distaste also affects opinion about the amount of political advertising. More than half the public, 55%, believe there are too many political advertisements on television (only 6% think there are too few). But even those who think there are too many political ads aren’t sure there should be a law reducing the number. Most say candidates themselves should limit them.

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.