Barely Half Favor Limiting Money Groups Can Spend Supporting a Political Campaign

May 24, 2011, 9:03 PM GMT+0

“Limiting the amount of money these groups can spend in support of a political campaign” may be popular, but only to a point:

  • 51% favor limits on what Foreign corporations can contribute to a candidate’s election campaigns,
  • 50% favor limits on Special interest groups,
  • 50% Labor Unions,
  • 50% Corporations,
  • 47% Individuals,
  • 47% Candidates spending their own money on their own campaign

Superficially, Americans may be nominally more likely to favor limits on institutions (foreign corporations, special interests, labor unions and corporations) giving campaign contributions to candidates than to favor limits on what individuals give candidates (or contribute to their own campaigns.) The difference between support for limits on spending by institutions vs. support for spending by individuals is too small to be statistically significant, however.

There is surprisingly little ideological or partisan difference to be noted on this question. To be sure, Democrats are more likely to favor limits on spending by corporations (56%) than limits on spending by labor unions (52%). Republicans are more likely to favor limits on spending by labor unions (52%) than by corporations (46%). But again, the differences are small, and Independents, whom one might expect to be the most wary of the money influence on American politics, are not particularly more in favor of limits than partisans. Support for limits are similar among liberals, conservatives and moderates.

Overall support for limits on spending on campaigns barely reaches majority support—it is not a consensus issue among individuals. That may change. In a January ruling, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court rules limits on independent expenditures in support or opposition to a particular candidate could come from the general revenues of corporations and labor unions. (Limits on contributions to candidates can still be constitutional limits.) Some elections experts believe the ruling will unleash a torrent of advertising in the final weeks of the 2012 Federal elections, possibly even drowning out the voice of the candidates themselves. Others doubt it. We’ll see. If this Supreme Court ruling does open the way to institutions dominating the debate in elections, then support for limits may grow. Right now, barely half favor limits.

Full datasets for Economist/YouGov polls can be found here.