AP-NORC Poll: Americans not fans of public financing

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 3:18 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans are content with a campaign finance system based on donations to candidate campaigns, but they're wary of the outside groups that spend money on politics, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Here are some things to know about public opinion on campaign finance from the new AP-NORC poll:

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NO LOVE FOR PUBLIC FINANCING

Most Americans aren't fans of public financing. The new poll finds that they prefer presidential campaigns to be funded by donations over any form of government financing.

Fifty-six percent say they think presidential campaigns should get their money from donations, while just 26 percent prefer that the federal government provide a set amount of money to each campaign.

An additional 17 percent prefer a matching system, in which campaigns are funded primarily using donations, but the federal government matches smaller donations to increase their impact.

Currently, nominees from each party can choose to accept a grant from the federal government to pay for their campaigns if they agree not to raise or spend additional money during the general election, but neither party's nominee chose to accept that grant in 2012. There's no equivalent grant for primary campaigns, but candidates can receive matching funds if they meet certain requirements, including agreeing to national and state spending limits.

Americans just don't think federal financing is very effective at reducing the impact of money in politics. Only 25 percent think government financing of campaigns is very or extremely effective, while 34 percent consider it somewhat effective. Even fewer say that of matching funds for small donations.

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MOST WANT DISCLOSURE FOR OUTSIDE GROUPS

While Americans are comfortable with donations as the best way of paying for campaigns, they're less happy with the role of outside groups in raising and spending money to support candidates.

Just 33 percent think it's acceptable for groups like super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to help a candidate, provided they don't coordinate with the candidate's campaign. A slim majority — 51 percent — say it's unacceptable.

Americans are even less happy about outside nonprofit groups that can support candidates without disclosing their donors. Three-quarters of Americans in the poll say all groups that raise and spend money to support candidates should be required to disclose their donors. Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to say so.

Six in 10 Americans say such a disclosure requirement would be very or extremely effective at reducing the influence of money in politics. Close to 3 in 10 say it would be somewhat effective. Similarly, most Americans think that limiting spending by outside groups would be very effective (54 percent) or somewhat effective (33 percent).

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FEELING IN THE DARK

Few Americans say they have a good understanding of how campaigns are financed. Just 13 percent say they understand quite a bit or a great deal about how candidates get money for their campaigns, while 53 percent understand only a little or not at all. Thirty-three percent say they understand a moderate amount.

The vast majority don't see themselves sending money to a campaign. Just 9 percent say it's very likely they'll donate directly to a candidate, 4 percent think they'll donate to a party and 2 percent think they'll donate to a political action committee.

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DIVIDED ON MONEY AS SPEECH

Americans are nearly evenly divided over whether money given to political candidates is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, with 50 percent saying it is and 48 percent saying it is not.

Sixty-one percent of Republicans, but just 45 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents, think of money in politics as a free-speech issue.

The Supreme Court has held that money contributed to political campaigns is a form of political speech, and in 2010 ruled that independent expenditures made by corporations, unions and nonprofit groups are also protected by the First Amendment.

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The AP-NORC Poll of 1,011 adults was conducted online and by phone Nov. 12-17 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for AmeriSpeak who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were interviewed over the phone.

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Online:

AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/

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