The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Groundbreaking Poll Finds Voters Concerned by Sources of Political Cash

Mon, November 16, 2009

Voters are concerned about where political candidates are getting their money, but not necessarily about how much they are getting, according to a poll conducted by Government professors Brian Roberts and Daron Shaw.

A survey of 2,100 individuals from around the country was released in conjunction with a daylong conference on money and politics sponsored by the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. It is among the most comprehensive public opinion surveys ever conducted on the role of money in politics.

The poll exposes significant gaps between perceptions of the role of money in politics, the salience of campaign finance as a public policy priority, and the public’s understanding of the basic mechanics of campaign finance.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents say the source of a candidate's campaign contributions are a factor in how to vote, compared to 29 percent who say the amount a candidate raises is a factor.

Respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a hypothetical U.S. Senate candidate if he or she received campaign contributions primarily from friends and acquaintances compared to the tobacco industry or trial attorneys. But the amount of money the candidate raised had no impact on voter support.

The three biggest factors influencing Congress member's votes are campaign contributors, party affiliation and lobbyists, according to respondents who said constituents' concerns had the least influence.

The poll, which was conducted over the Internet Oct. 13-22, has a margin of error of 2.1 percent. Complete results and methodology are available online at the Texas Politics Project Web site. The summary is also available here.

The poll also surveyed the national mood. Only 31 percent of respondents believe the country is heading in the right direction. "The pessimism that we have seen expressed in national surveys over the past 15 months continues," said Shaw. "Americans are very concerned about the economy and unemployment, but also express concern about corruption and the efficacy of the political system."

The poll found 42 percent of respondents believe the economy, including unemployment and recent federal bailout packages, is the most important issue facing the country today. Health care ranked second among respondents' concerns at 17 percent.

Similarly, 95 percent of respondents rated jobs and unemployment as an issue of high importance, more than any other of the 15 issues included in the survey. Gay marriage ranked as the issue of least importance to voters, with just 37 percent characterizing it as a high concern.

"Our results," Roberts said, "suggest that an economic recovery will only go so far in restoring the public's trust in Congress. Perceptions of corruption and the role of money in politics are profound and are poised to impact voting decisions."

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