Poll: Super PACs Leave Americans Less Likely to Vote

April 24, 2012

Outsized Spending Heightens Government Distrust

Contact: Erik Opsal, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646-292-8356

New York, NY – A new national poll finds that the outsized spending of super PACs and other groups in the 2012 election cycle has given rise to significant, bipartisan fears of corruption and heightened distrust in government. The poll, conducted on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, also finds that one in four Americans are less likely to vote this year due to fears that candidates cater to the interests of super PAC donors over the public interest.

“Unlimited spending by supposedly independent super PACs is creating widespread perceptions of corruption and undermining public confidence that elected officials serve in the public interest,” said Adam Skaggs, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy program. “The perception that super PACs are corrupting government is making Americans disillusioned, and an alarming number say they are less likely to vote this year.”

One in four Americans — 26% — say they are less likely to vote because big donors to super PACs have so much more influence over elected officials than average Americans.

  • Less wealthy and less educated Americans were significantly more likely to say they would be less likely to vote because of super PAC influence: 34% of respondents with no more than a high school education, and 34% of those in households with an annual income less than $35,000, said they would be less likely to vote.
  • 41% of respondents — including 49% of those who have no more than a high school education and 48% of those with household incomes under $35,000 — believe that their votes don’t matter very much because big donors to super PACs have so much more influence.

The poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe super PAC spending will lead to corruption, while three in four believe that limiting how much corporations, unions and individuals can donate to super PACs would curb corruption. These beliefs are held equally by both Republicans and Democrats.

Specifically:

  • 69% of respondents agreed that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to super PACs will lead to corruption.” Only 15% disagreed. Notably, 74% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats agreed with this statement.
  • 73% of respondents agreed that “there would be less corruption if there were limits on how much could be given to super PACs.” Only 14% disagreed. Here, 75% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats agreed.
  • Only about 1 in 5 Americans agree that average voters have the same access to candidates (and influence on candidates) as big donors to super PACs. Two-thirds of Americans disagree.

Respondents noted a stark contrast with spending in past elections. Half of those interviewed — and 85% of those expressing an opinion — agreed that spending in this election is more likely to lead to corruption than in previous elections. Only 9% of respondents thought that, compared to previous elections, it was less likely that the money spent by political groups in this election will lead to corruption.

These perceptions have sizable impacts on Americans’ views of government and their own participation:

  • Two in three Americans — 65% — say that they trust government less because big donors to super PACs have more influence than regular voters.

Large majorities also reported believing that members of Congress will favor the interests of those who donate to super PACs over those who do not — and that super PAC donors can pressure elected officials to alter their agendas. Specifically:

  • More than two-thirds of all respondents — 68% — agreed that a company that spent $100,000 to help elect a member of Congress could successfully pressure him or her to change a vote on proposed legislation. Only one in five respondents disagreed.
  • More than three-quarters of all respondents — 77% — agreed that members of Congress are more likely to act in the interest of a group that spent millions to elect them than to act in the public interest. Only 10% disagreed.

The national telephone survey of 1,015 adults in the continental United States was conducted April 12-15, 2012, by the independent Opinion Research Corporation. The survey included 764 landline interviews and 251 cell phone interviews, and was weighted to account for geographic, demographic, and socioeconomic underrepresentation. Unless otherwise indicated, the margin of error for reported survey results is ±3.1%. A detailed Appendix, including the poll’s script, methodology, and responses broken down by demographics, is available on the Brennan Center’s website at http://www.brennancenter.org/Super_PAC_Poll_Appendix.

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