Poll: Too much money spent on presidential campaign

— -- As the most expensive presidential election in history nears its close, Americans by 3-1 think too much money is being spent on the campaign. Most back limits on how much candidates are allowed to spend.

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds wide support for public financing of presidential campaigns, including a third who say the current voluntary system should be mandatory.

Even so, Barack Obama hasn't paid much of a political price for opting out of the public financing system this year, the first major-party nominee to do so since it was established after the Watergate scandal. Nearly two-thirds say they aren't sure whether Obama or John McCain are taking part in the system. McCain is.

Presidential candidates are increasingly likely to bypass public funding, says Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, who studies campaign finance. "Candidates are no longer going to look at the public funding option unless their backs are against the wall," he says.

Democrat Obama, who initially said he would join public financing if his opponent did, displayed his financial muscle Wednesday with a 30-minute infomercial airing on NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision and elsewhere.

Republican McCain is generally limited to the $84 million his campaign accepted in public funds for the general election. Obama raised more than $150 million in September alone.

Forty percent of Americans say the nation should maintain the voluntary system, and 32% say candidates should be required to participate. Nineteen percent say the public financing system should be eliminated.

Fewer than 10% of taxpayers now mark the $3 tax check-off box on their tax returns to underwrite the system.

Among other findings:

• Americans by 70%-24% say too much — a record $2.4 billion, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics — has been spent on presidential campaigns this year.

• Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to support mandatory public financing. That could reflect GOP unhappiness with Obama's money edge this year.

• And all those campaign ads? Two-thirds say they "serve a useful purpose," while one in three say it would be better if there were no TV ads. The survey of 1,008 adults Tuesday has a margin of error of +/—3 percentage points.