Most Americans think campaign money aids rich

A supporter of U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) holds a fake bill with Obama's face at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina

Most Americans, no matter what their political party, believe there is too much money in politics and reject the idea that people should be allowed to spend what they want, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Thursday.

Seventy-five percent of Americans feel there is too much money in politics, and only 25 percent feel there is an intrinsic right to unfettered election spending, an argument commonly used by opponents of controls on campaign finance.

Almost the same proportion – 76 percent – feel that the amount of money in elections has given rich people more influence than other Americans, the online survey found.

“What we’re essentially seeing is Americans are fed up with the system and they think all the money in the system is not fair and they don’t like it,” said Chris Jackson, research director at Ipsos public affairs.

The poll was taken on May 22-24, with campaigning for the November 6 general election contest between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney well under way.

This year’s U.S. elections are expected to be the most expensive ever – with billions of dollars raised and spent on national, state and local races. In April alone, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $43.6 million, while Romney took in $40.1 million for his campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Many past controls on campaign spending have been lifted thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which ruled that corporate and labor union spending in elections is protected free speech.

More Democrats down on spending

The poll found 79 percent of Democrats believe there is too much money in politics, compared with 68 percent of Republicans. Independents largely agreed with Democrats on the issue, with 77 percent saying there is too much money in politics and campaigns.

There was a similar gap between the parties on whether rich people have more influence because of the additional money in elections. Four out of five Democrats and independents – 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively – agreed with that statement. Sixty-five percent of Republicans agreed.

Two-thirds of respondents – 67 percent – also believed public officials change their positions to appeal to campaign donors, compared with 33 percent who think campaign donations mostly go to officials who already agree with donors’ positions.

There was little disagreement between members of the different parties on that issue, with 69 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents agreeing that officials change their stances.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that most Americans, while concerned about campaign spending, had not heard of the Citizens United decision, at least by its name. Only 19 percent of the respondents knew of the case.

“Despite all the debate that we’ve had in (Washington) D.C. about Citizens United, the rest of the country, at least talking about it as Citizens United, hasn’t heard about it,” Jackson said.

Slightly more Democrats, 22 percent, were aware of Citizens United than the 18 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of independents.

The online poll of 995 Americans was conducted May 22-24, 2012. The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online poll is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for all respondents.

For the 431 Democrats in the survey, it was 5.5 percentage points, for the 309 Republicans it was 6.5 percentage points and for the 254 who described their political position as independent or other, it was 7.2 percentage points.


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