A survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide suggests a wide majority believe it is unacceptable for groups to spend heavily on political advertising in districts where they are not located, a phenomenon dubbed “outside money.”
Two-thirds of those polled say they oppose this practice, while 26 percent support it.
Recent published reports in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets have noted that television spending by outside groups has more than doubled from what was spent at the same time in the 2006 midterm elections.
An analysis published earlier this week in Politico.com reported that, “Never in modern political history has there been so much secret money gushing into an American election. By Election Day, independent groups will have aired more than $200 million worth of campaign ads using cash that can’t be traced back to its original source.”
“While it might be true that outside groups have the legal right to flood these races with ads, many Americans are concerned that it distorts the democratic process,” said Daniel M. Shea, director of the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College, which developed and commissioned a poll, “Nastiness, Name-calling & Negativity: The Allegheny College Survey of Civility and Compromise in American Politics,” in spring 2010.
Shea expressed concern with the volume of money being spent by outside pressure groups in local races. In Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District, where Allegheny is located, numerous outside groups have hammered the airwaves with ads for and against both the Democratic and Republican candidates.
“On one level, outside money is not entirely new. We’ve seen this before. But the amount of money that is being spent by national groups is unprecedented. As the head of an organization designed to promote grassroots campaigning, I worry that outside money will lead all citizens, but especially young citizens, to question the value of their own engagement,” said Shea
Much of Allegheny’s spring poll centered on issues related to the tone of politics, and its results have been widely circulated in the news media. But the poll also queried about the outside money issue. “We knew it would be a big issue this fall, and, sure enough, it is one of the most important issues of this campaign season,” said Shea.
Group spending has become the focus of attention since a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The High Court lifted restrictions on corporate spending in elections. Corporations, including nonprofit ones like labor unions, are no longer restricted when it comes to financing radio and television commercials that focus on voters and identify a political candidate.
The New York Times reported that in the weeks leading to this November’s hotly contested House and Senate races, many nonprofit advocacy organizations have begun to be more aggressive, explicitly asking voters to cast their ballots for or against candidates. “The vast majority of these political commercials are billed as ‘issue advocacy,’ said Shea, “but they are more easily recognized as attack ads.”
According to Shea, this latest twist on campaign financing laws speaks to the incivility permeating politics today. An overwhelming majority of Americans polled last spring said they perceived an increasing rancor and hostility in politics. A second survey, conducted two weeks ago by the CPP, indicates that the majority of Americans believe civility has gotten worse, in large part due to the nature of campaigning.
“It’s no wonder,” Shea noted, “that four times as many Americans see the tone of campaigning as much more negative this year, than those who see the election as more positive. The floodgates are open, and we’re a torrent of nastiness and negativity.”
Self-described independents expressed the most opposition to outside election spending, at about 72 percent. Self-described Democrats and Republicans both oppose the practice, at about 65 percent, respectively.
Self-described conservatives, liberals and moderates oppose outside spending by about 65 percent, while a full 75 percent of Americans aged 50 and older oppose it, too. About 63 percent of Americans who earn more than $100,000 and 69 percent of those making less than $25,000 oppose outside spending.
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