As major presidential hopefuls release their fundraising numbers from the first quarter this week, recent polling finds just 1 in 5 Americans say they are satisfied with the nation’s campaign finance laws.
The January Gallup poll found that exactly 20% of Americans were OK with how the US handles campaign finance. That’s tied with its poll in 2016 for the lowest who have said so since it started tracking in 2001. Democrats tended to be less satisfied than Republicans – 26% of Republicans said campaign finances laws are OK and 15% of Democrats agreed.
Presidential finance numbers are considered one of the many primary markers of success early on in the race, along with polling. Candidates and presidential hopefuls like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have met or surpassed expectations with their first fundraising totals.
But there’s a lot more to judging how well a candidate’s campaign is doing than just overall fundraising totals. The average size of the donation is important, but so is the median donation. It’s also significant to look at who is contributing to a presidential hopeful’s progress – are they special interest organizations? Or individual citizens? Do super PACs support them?
These convoluted ways of ginning up money to run for office have led many Americans to be frustrated with the state of the country’s campaign finance laws.
But the way to solve that dissatisfaction is unclear, especially since a lot of people in the US aren’t too knowledgeable about the guidelines.
In a late 2015 survey conducted by AP-NORC, 53% of Americans said they know only a little or nothing at all about the rules governing the financing of campaigns and only 13% said they know a great deal or quite a bit.
According to that poll, the most popular potential way to reduce the impact of money in politics was instituting requirements that all groups spending money to support candidates disclose their contributors and how much money they gave. Three in five Americans supported that potential solution.
There was an also an overwhelming percentage of Americans who want groups that can spend unlimited money in campaigns to disclose their donors.
A little more than three-quarters of Americans said all groups that raise and spend unlimited money to support candidates should be required to publicly disclose their contributors. Slightly less than a quarter said it’s OK for those types of groups to keep their donors private.
Other popular solutions tested in the poll for reducing the influence of money in politics were limits on how much an outside group can spend on a candidate’s campaign (54% said that would be extremely/very effective); limits on how much a political party can spend on a candidate’s campaign (52%); and limits on how much a candidate can spend on his or her campaign, regardless of the source of the money (51%).
While a late 2015 survey definitely isn’t recent, there hasn’t been much polling on the topic since then. But this poll is especially helpful because respondents were replying at a time when fundraising wasn’t as prominent an issue as it has been early in the 2020 presidential race
Americans’ concern about how money will influence their politicians is spotted all over AP-NORC’s 2015 poll.
Eighty-two percent nationally said campaign contributions from corporations, special interest groups and individuals directly influence the decisions that most elected officials make.
Under half (44%) said money from political action committees – organizations that are used to pool campaign contributions and to campaign for or against candidates – was an acceptable way to finance presidential campaigns. Americans found that using PACs was one of the less acceptable legal methods of financing campaigns cited in the poll.
The least acceptable method was public financing from the federal government, a totally legal use of taxpayer dollars. Slightly more than a quarter thought that was an acceptable way of financing a campaign.
The polls show that, when it comes to campaign finance, Americans are all about transparency. They want to know where the money is coming from and how it’s being used.
And that could play a big role in the upcoming race, as evidenced by a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in March. In that poll, 7 in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in Iowa said they would be very or mostly dissatisfied if the eventual Democratic nominee held fundraisers with wealthy individuals or corporate lobbyists.
The Gallup poll was done January 2-10, 2019. The poll surveyed 1,017 adults, using live callers, and the margin of error is 4 percentage points.
The AP-NORC poll was done November 12-17, 2015. The poll surveyed 1,011 adults, using their AmeriSpeak online panel, and the margin of error is 3.9 percentage points.
The CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll was done March 3-6, 2019. The poll surveyed 401 likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers, using live callers, and the margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.