Get notifications of new releases from the Reason-Rupe Poll.

61 Percent Favor Building Keystone Pipeline

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that 61 percent of Americans favor building the 1,200 mile Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canada through the Midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast. A third (32 percent) of Americans oppose the proposal.

Proponents of the long-delayed and contentious Keystone pipeline route say it will drive down gas prices and will create new jobs. Opponents say the pipeline could run too close to environmentally sensitive areas, and exacerbate global warming by increasing the fossil fuel use. The latter has been pushing hard to convince the Obama administration to reject the proposal.

Since the pipeline crosses an international border, President Obama, with input from the State Department, must grant approval for the pipeline before it is allowed to proceed. Reason-Rupe finds that if Obama approves the project, 18 percent say they would view him more favorably, 14 percent would view him less favorably, but two thirds would not change their minds about the president.

Over two years ago, President Obama rejected the proposal saying more time was needed to evaluate the effects of the pipeline. Still today, no decision has been made. Earlier this year, the State Department concluded that approving the project would have little impact on global greenhouse gas emissions since Canadian production would continue regardless of Keystone. Now the State Department, with eight separate agencies weighing in, will consider if the project is in the broader “national interest.”

Despite fervent opposition from the liberal wing of the president’s party, 50 percent of Democrats favor approving the oil route while 43 percent oppose. However, Reason-Rupe’s measure of ideological groups find that ideological liberals are opposed to the pipeline with 37 percent in favor and 57 percent opposed.

Republicans are most favorable of Keystone, by a margin of 82 to 13 percent. A majority (57 percent) of independents are also in favor, while 35 percent are opposed.

If President Obama approves Keystone, 17 percent of Democrats say they would view him less favorably, however nearly a third of Republicans say such a move would improve their perception of the president.

These results comport with a recent Washington Post/ABC poll on support for the pipeline. The poll also found that despite high support for the pipeline, 47 percent of Americans also thought building the oil route would pose a significant risk to the environment.  Taken together, this suggests that Americans may be willing to deal with the potential environmental risks to access the economic benefits of Keystone.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

62 Percent Oppose Govt Subsidies to Oil but 58 Percent Favor Subsidies to Wind and Solar Companies

While most Americans may say oil, gas, and coal companies shouldn’t get taxpayer dollars to help run their business, they are willing to make an exception for alternative energy companies.

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that 31 percent of Americans favor the federal government providing subsidies to oil, gas, and coal companies, while 62 percent oppose. However, support jumps to 58 percent in support of government subsidies to wind, solar, and hydrogen companies, while 36 percent oppose.

These results indicate Americans may make a distinction between older, established industries who are already profitable and young companies researching new technologies that may drive down current energy prices.

While partisans generally agree the government should not provide subsidies to traditional energy companies, partisanship impacts reactions to government subsidizing alternative energy companies. Sixty-two percent of both Democrats and independents favor subsidies to wind and solar companies compared to 46 percent of Republicans (who are evenly divided).

Besides tea partiers, the only political group to oppose alternative energy subsidies include self-identified conservatives, with 43 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed.

Even a slim majority (51 percent) of Americans who say they prefer free market solutions to strong government favor subsidies to alternative energy, while 44 percent are opposed.

As education increases, so does support for alternative energy subsidies rising from 51 percent among high school grads to 65 percent among college graduates. Young people are also more supportive, including 70 percent of millennials, compared to 51 percent of seniors. Interestingly, millennials are also more supportive of subsidies to traditional energy companies than older Americans by a margin of 41 to 27 percent.

It’s also worth pointing out that many Americans may not even know what a government subsidy even is. Among these Americans, these questions tell us which types of energy companies Americans like more. In this instance, new is better.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

76 Percent Say Charities Would Have Spent Their Tax Dollars As Well or Better than Government

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that only 17 percent of Americans think their tax dollars improved society more than had they given that same amount of money to charity or invested it in private businesses. A third say their tax money improved society less than had private charities or businesses spent it, while 4 in 10 say it really makes no difference. In sum, over 70 percent of Americans say private charities or businesses would spend their tax dollars as well as or better than government.

While these were asked as two separate questions, respondents gave generally the same responses regardless of whether it were a private charity or a private business.

Part of the reason so few Americans think their tax bill improved society more than had they given that money to charity or private business, is that they believe government wastes 50 percent of its tax revenue.

Republicans (45 percent) were nearly twice as likely as Democrats (23 percent) to say government spending their tax dollars had less of a positive effect than had private charities spent the money, with similar percentages if private businesses were spending the money.

Those with higher levels of education and income were considerably more likely to say charities would improve society more with their tax dollars than government. For instance, those with college degrees (44 percent) were nearly twice as likely as those with high school diplomas (25 percent) to say charities would have better spent the amount they paid in taxes in 2013. A majority (53 percent) of households making more than $110,000 a year said their tax money improved society less than had they given the money to charity compared to 26 percent of those making less than $45,000 a year.

Younger people are also more likely than older people to say private charities would have improved society more with their tax money: for instance, 40 percent of 18-24 year olds say it improved society less compared to 22 percent of seniors (over age 65).

Even though few say government spending of tax dollars improves society more than charities or private businesses, few endorse “bending the rules” at tax time to reduce ones own tax bill. Instead, most (62 percent) would prefer changing the federal tax system to a flat tax where everyone paid the same percentage of his or her income, and of course government to reduce its spending

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

21 Percent Say It’s Morally Acceptable for Middle Class to Bend Tax Rules

Even though Americans say government wastes 50 percent of the tax money collected each year, they do not believe that justifies cheating at tax time to reduce one’s tax bill.

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 21 percent think it’s morally acceptable for the middle class to reduce the amount they have to pay in taxes “even if it means bending the rules,” while 77 percent say it’s not morally acceptable. Slightly lower, 15 percent say it’s ok for the wealthy to bend the rules to reduce their tax burden, while 83 percent say it’s not. 

Taken together, about 10 percent of Americans say it’s ok for the middle class to cheat, but not the wealthy. This group is not particularly more partisan or demographically different from other respondents, but tends to be slightly more male.

Those who say it's ok for both the wealthy and the middle class to bend the rules at tax time are also not that different from other respondents demographically, but also tend to be more male and fiscally conservative. 

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

62 Percent of Americans Say They Favor a Flat Tax

The latest Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans if they would support or oppose changing the federal tax system to a flat tax, where everyone pays the same percentage of his or her income, finding that 62 percent favor the flat tax and 33 percent are opposed. When asked where they would set the flat tax, the aveage response was 15 percent.

This reflects another recent Reason-Rupe poll finding that 67 percent of Americans say it is "not the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes," while 29 percent say it is.

Strong support for a flat tax extends across income groups (62 percent) among those making less than $30,000 a year and 73 percent among those making more than $110,000 a year. Similarly across education groups and age groups, 6 in 10 say they support the flat tax.

Support for a flat tax extends beyond partisanship, with 66 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 52 percent of Democrats in support. Nevertheless, Democrats are more likely to oppose the flat tax (43 percent) compared to Republicans (29 percent) and independents (29 percent).

Americans who say the less government the better and that the free market can better solve problems than a strong government, favor a flat tax by a margin of nearly 50 points (roughly 72 to 25 percent). However, those who think government should be doing more and that we need a strong government to solve problems favor a flat tax by only 8 points (roughly 51 to 45 percent).

These results seem to contradict previous Reason-Rupe poll results finding a majority in support of raising taxes on the wealthy—implying support for a progressive rather than flat tax. In 2012, Reason-Rupe found that 57 percent favored raising taxes "on those making more than $250,000 a year," while 39 percent opposed.  Again, in 2013, Reason-Rupe found that 66 percent favored the government raising taxes on “wealthier households,” while 31 percent opposed.

Americans Think The Middle Class Pays More Taxes Than the Rich

One explanation for why Americans say they want both a flat tax and to raise taxes on the wealthy is that 66 percent of Americans are under the distinct impression that the middle class is literally paying a larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthyRhetoric throughout the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns made many Americans believe they were paying more in taxes than the wealthy. Reason-Rupe recently asked Americans who favor these tax increases to explain in their own words why they wanted the wealthy to pay more. While many of the reasons were about the rich being better able to afford higher taxes, many revealed that they believe the rich actually pay less taxes than they do (full responses here):

  • “I do not think that someone who makes $300,000 should pay less than me who makes $40,000”
  • “There is a loophole where they aren’t paying their fair amount, I would like a flat tax”
  • “Look at Romney paying less taxes”
  •  “I think the wealthy should pay as much as the poor percentage-wise equally”
  • “I heard too many stories of loopholes that the wealthy figure out how to get out of taxes”
  • “Fair share—same percentage”
  • “They don't pay the same tax rate, everyone should be taxed the same”
  • “They need to pay their taxes like the middle man”
  •  “Fat cats sitting back but poor people doing all the paying”
  • “Because they pay less taxes, the more money they make the less taxes they pay”
  • Most of them work for the government and get inside information that most of us old folks don’t have”
  • “I think the average person pays a bigger check”
  • “Wealthier people are paying less income tax percentage than the lower income people”

Urban Institute data reports that in fact, the wealthy do pay a higher tax rate than the middle class. Average effective federal tax rates in 2011, as a percentage of adjusted gross income find the following (after tax credits):

Lowest Income Quintile: -5.8%

Second Quintile: 1.3%

Middle Quintile: 9.2%

Fourth Quintile: 12.9%

Top Quintile: 20.6%

The “1 Percent” pay 25.3%”

Reason-Rupe also found that only about 20 percent of Americans knew the actual share of federal income tax dollars paid by the top 5 percent of households, which is roughly 60 percent of all tax receipts. Without knowing these facts, 57 percent of Americans say they think the top 5 percent should contribute no more than 40 percent of all the tax revenue collected.

These data indicate that the public really doesn’t know how much the rich pay, and often likely make policy judgments based off of the political rhetoric of the politicians and pundits they trust. The more Americans are led to believe that there is widespread cheating among the nation’s wealthy, the greater the support for raising their taxes.

Even though recent polls show that Americans say they support a flat tax and don’t believe government has a responsibility to reduce the income gap, Gallup has found in recent years that a slim majority (52 percent) supports the government “redistribut[ing] wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” It’s unclear if different wording, the belief that the rich pay less than the middle class, or something else explains these seemingly contradictory findings. It’s likely that many Americans don’t know what the word “redistribute” even means and thus respond as if this is just a question about raising taxes on the wealthy.

 

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

Americans Say Government Wastes Half of Every Tax Dollar it Collects

With Tax Day just a few days away, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that Americans think their government wastes fifty cents of every dollar they hand over in taxes. In fact, the middle half of Americans thinks government wastes anywhere from 30 cents to 80 cents of every tax dollar.

This suggests Americans believe the federal government should be able to make do with just half of the money it collects each year. With perceived waste this high, it’s less surprising that only 17 percent of Americans think their income taxes did more to improve society than had they given that money to charity or invested in private businesses.

Gallup first began asking this question in the late 1970s and early 1980s, finding that Americans generally thought the government wasted about 40 cents of every tax dollar. This number has steadily increased, rising to 46 cents on the dollar in 2002, and then in September 2011, Gallup reported Americans’ perception of government waste had exceeded the 50 percent threshold. Reason-Rupe has continued re-asking this question since 2012, finding perceived government waste hit a record of 60 cents of every dollar in September 2013. However, since last fall concerns of government waste have fallen back to 50 cents on the dollar.

Tea party supporters are considerably more likely than their Republican counterparts who don’t support the movement to perceive government waste. Tea partiers estimate the government wastes 65 cents of every dollar it collects compared to 55 cents among regular Republicans who don’t support the movement. Not only does the average tea partier perceive more waste, their estimates ranged far wider. The middle fifty percent of tea party responses (the interquartile range) range from 50 cents to 95 cents on the dollar. In contrast, the middle fifty percent of regular Republicans ranged from 35 cents to 75 cents.

Independents perceive more government waste (59 cents) than Democrats (47 cents) and slightly more than Republicans (55 cents). Older people (57 cents) were also slightly more likely than younger Americans (50 cents) to perceive waste. Those with higher levels of education are less likely to think the government wastes money but average estimates never drop below 40 cents on the dollar. For instance, those with high school diplomas estimate government wastes 59 cents of every tax dollar compared to 44 cents among those with post-graduate degrees.

While sociodemographic groups vary in their perception of government waste, they each on average think government wastes about half of their tax money, which is considerably higher than 20 years ago. 

* Comparison of subgroups shows averages according to the mean response. Bars represent the interquartile range indicating responses between the 25th and 75th percentile of respondents. 

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

70 Percent of Americans Would Be More Bothered by Political Bullying than Politician Drug Use or Infidelity

Reason-Rupe finds most Americans would be more concerned by political bullying than typical scandals that bring down politicians. Seventy percent of Americans would be “more bothered” by politicians using their political power to bully someone, while only 14 percent would be more bothered if their elected official used drugs and 11 percent would be more concerned if the politician cheated on his or her spouse.

Politicians who have been caught cheating, such as former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer or former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, often choose to step down from their elected posts.  Similarly former Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) resigned after he was arrested for cocaine possession.

Reason-Rupe poll results suggest that while the public may not approve of politician drug use or infidelity, they would be far more upset if it were proven an elected official used their political power to bully their opponents. For instance, this means that if the public were to believe allegations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was behind lane closures on the George Washington bridge (“Bridgegate”) for political retribution, this could create very serious problems for a Christie presidential bid. However, a recent Quinnipiac poll finds only 26 percent of New Jersey voters believe Christie personally ordered the traffic jam. Instead 64 percent think Christie’s aides made the call for political retribution, and a slim majority (51 percent) believes Christie was aware of his aides’ actions. Overall, New Jersey voters are evenly divided over whether they consider Christie a bully (48 percent) or a leader (48%) with independent voters breaking in favor of leader by a margin of 54 to 43 percent. In sum, while no one likes a bully, not even New Jersey voters who have heard the most about Bridgegate are convinced Christie needs to step down.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

Millennials, the Tech-savvy, Independents, and Libertarians Say Bitcoin Should Be Allowed; Bitcoin Tells Us Who Cares About Choice

The latest Reason-Rupe poll is one of the first polls to ask Americans about Bitcoin, the new online digital currency. Only 8 percent of Americans said they knew “a lot” about it, 11 percent said “some,” 24 percent said “a little,” and a majority (56 percent) said “nothing at all.”

The poll then described Bitcoin to respondents as “a new online digital currency that is not connected to any particular country’s currency system and is not controlled by any government.” Then, even despite the high number who knows nothing about Bitcoin, a plurality (47 percent) said government should not allow people to use Bitcoins to purchase goods and services, while 38 percent said it should be allowed and another 14 percent don’t know.

The poll found that the people who know the least about Bitcoin want to ban in the most. However, among those who know a fair amount about Bitcoin, they favored allowing it by a margin of 62 to 34 percent. Among those who know nothing at all, they want to ban it 54 to 27 percent.

Support for Bitcoin increases with education and income, and declines with age. Americans making more than $110,000 a year support allowing Bitcoin by a margin of 55 to 39 percent. Conversely, households making less than  $75,000 a year tend to oppose with only 36 percent in favor and 49 percent who think Bitcoin should be prohibited. Roughly half of those who have not attended college are weary of Bitcoin, but a plurality of college graduates think it should be allowed. As described below, millennials are considerably more supportive of Bitcoin. Men (43 percent) are slightly more likely than women (34 percent) to favor allowing Bitcoin. Racial groups are equally likely to lean toward prohibiting Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s Ideological Experiment

Bitcoin offers a unique opportunity—a type of experiment—to examine how people react to things with which they are unfamiliar.  Some individuals have a natural predisposition to ban things they don’t understand while others naturally lean toward individual autonomy unless someone convinces them that someone else will be harmed. The question of Bitcoin provides a useful tool to delineate between those who opt for control or choice.

So what types of individuals are most likely to favor choice or control? Millennials, tech-savvy gamers, political independents, and libertarians.

Among young people 18-24, 59 percent say Bitcoin should be allowed, this drops to 46 percent among 35-44 year olds and then further to 22 percent among seniors 65 and older. This is part of a larger trend we’re observing with this generation: socially liberal with undecided economic views, but cares deeply about personalization and individual autonomy.

Arguably, individuals who play video games frequently are also necessarily more tech-savvy. Reason-Rupe finds that tech savvy gamers also support allowing Bitcoin 55 to 35 percent. In contrast, Americans who never play video games, say government should prohibit Bitcoin 51 percent to 30 percent. Like millennials, gamers also exhibit a tendency toward personal choice on issues beyond Bitcoin.

Unlike partisans, roughly half of political independents and independents who lean Republican favor allowing Bitcoin, while 35 percent want it banned. In contrast, a majority (57 percent) of Democrats want it prohibited, as do 52 percent of Republicans. While sample sizes are too small to draw firm conclusions, it’s intuitive that 66 percent of self identified libertarians want to allow Bitcoin while only 17 percent think it should be prohibited. Self-identified conservatives were the most likely to want to ban it by a margin of 53 to 33 percent.

Examining underlying beliefs about the role and power of government, Reason-Rupe finds that a majority (53 percent) of Americans who think government should promote traditional values are unfavorable toward Bitcoin, compared to 32 percent who favor it. But not only social conservatives want government to control Bitcoin, so do Americans who prefer a strong government and who say there is more government should be doing (both 50 percent opposed).

In fact, asking questions about the appropriate scope and power of government allows us to group Americans according to beliefs on economic and social issues respectively creating four groups: those who lean libertarian, conservative, liberal, and communitarian (socially conservative but fiscally liberal). Each group comprises about a fifth of the population respectively, with the remainder in the ideological center.

Among the political groups, only the group defined as libertarian reaches a majority (52 percent) in support of Bitcoin; liberals follow closely with 48 percent, then 37 percent of conservatives, and 24 percent of communitarians. These results confirm intuition: the more libertarian a person, the more predisposed they are to allow personal choice.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.    

Poll: 58 Percent of Americans Want the US to Stay Out of Ukraine

As tensions rise between Ukraine and Russia, America’s foreign policy hawks argue the US needs to do more. However, Reason-Rupe finds war-weary Americans are reluctant to get involved in yet another conflict abroad. My college Zenon Evans writes more about this here.

Conservative hawks like Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and US Sen. John McCain say we need to do more. Kristol argued that the US is partly responsible for what’s happening today because we didn’t get involved after the Orange Revolution in 2004, and therefore “we now need to help them.” John McCainwants the US to push for moving Ukraine into NATO, which would obligate the US to intervene in conflicts like these.

President Obama has urged caution saying that Ukraine is not “some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.” Sen. Rand Paul happened to agree contending "some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don't think that is a good idea."

Americans tend to agree the US should not get involved. In fact, when asked what they’d like to do regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 58 percent would prefer the US stay out of it completely. Thirty-one percent would prefer the US continue imposing economic sanctions and only 8 percent want the US to send troops. 

If Russia attempts to invade additional parts of Ukraine, Americans continue to overwhelmingly oppose the US sending troops, with 76 percent opposed and 20 percent in favor, and even oppose sending military aid and weapons to Ukraine, with 62 percent opposed and 33 percent in favor. However, only 32 percent would oppose imposing stricter economic sanctions on Russia, while 61 percent favor that approach. This is not because Americans necessarily believe sanctions will solve the problem, but rather they view it as a symbolic gesture to communicate to Russia that they don't condone its actions.

Opposition to military intervention or interference in Ukraine extends beyond partisanship, although Republicans are more likely to support involvement than Democrats. For instance, while a majority (53 percent) of Republicans oppose sending military aid, this number jumps to 68 percent among Democrats. When it comes to imposing stricter economic sanctions if Russia sends in more troops, Democrats and Republicans are equally in favor with roughly 6 in 10 in support. However, political independents are the most skeptical of further involvement only 41 percent favor and 48 percent opposed.

Millennials, many of whom came of political age during the Bush administration and two unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the most opposed to US involvement in Ukraine. Young people’s skepticism is not reserved for military intervention; they are the most likely group to oppose imposing further economic sanctions on Russia as well.

While many Americans lost confidence in President Bush’s foreign policy approach, only a third think President Obama’s is any better, and a third think it’s worse. Regarding Ukraine specifically, nearly a quarter of Americans don’t now enough about the situation to evaluate Obama’s performance, while 37 approve and 40 disapprove.

Opposition to US intervention in Ukraine plays a more important role than partisanship in explaining Americans’ evaluation of President Obama’s handling of the situation. Among those who disapprove of Obama’s handling of Ukraine, only 26 percent want the US to continue imposing economic sanctions and 61 percent want the US to stay out of it. However, among those who approve, roughly half support the administration’s policy while the other half want to stay out of it. Nevertheless, partisans are equally likely to support sanctions (31%) or staying out of  it (58%).

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.       

Poll: 63 Percent Say Politicians Playing Favorites is Worse than Special Interests' Campaign Contributions

On Wednesday the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old cap on the total amount an individual can contribute during an election cycle to federal candidates or political committees combined. The decision did not change the current $5,200 cap someone can give an individual candidate, but lifted the cap on the total amount an individual could donate across candidates and committees during an election cycle.

Chief Justice John Roberts writing in the majority explained: “The First Amendment safeguards an individual's right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association” and that, “the government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

Critics of the decision argue strict government regulation of campaign donations is necessary to ensure the wealthy and powerful do not hijack democracy. In the dissenting opinion Justice Breyer wrote: “Where enough money calls the tune…the general public will not be heard” and that the decision “undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”

As demonstrated in the latest Reason-Rupe poll, the public is also concerned about political corruption, despite the campaign finance laws already in place. On average Americans think 75 percent of elected officials are corrupted by campaign money and lobbyists and 70 percent use their political power to help their friends and hurt enemies.

Yet, the question remains: who is to blame for corruption and political favoritism?

While Americans support campaign finance regulation in various forms, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds the public places more blame on the politicians themselves who play favorites than the money potentially incentivizing their behavior.

When asked which is a more serious problem, 63 percent said “elected officials enacting policies and spending taxpayer money that benefits the special interests they favor” is worse than “special interest groups spending private money on campaigns to elect the politicians they favor.” Thirty-percent said campaign donations were the more serious problem.

This suggests that Americans believe the point at which the problem occurs is not when a special interest group sends money to a politician, but rather the moment the politician decides to use government power to grant special favors to interest groups.

Although the public holds the politicians themselves primarily accountable for favoritism rather than interest groups, the debate continues over what reforms would more effectively curb bad behavior in politicians.

Some argue for curbing the political donations that incentivize bad behavior and playing favorites. Others contend campaign finance regulations are just a band aid for a larger problem: these politicians would have less ability to play favorites in the first place if we limited what they were able to use government to do. Both reforms come with costs; the former necessarily curbs speech and free expression in the process of regulating donations. Limiting government’s power also constrains its ability to be used as a tool to address societal ills.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.

advertisement