Poll: Few Demand Campaign Reform

ByABC News
March 27, 2001, 5:02 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, March 27 -- Campaign finance reform has broad support but not broad urgency: It continues to rank very low in public priorities, despite a widespread belief that abuse underlies the current system.

Three-quarters of Americans support stricter campaign finance laws, up a bit from two-thirds a year ago. Much of the increase is among Republicans, possibly reflecting President Bush's recent support of some type of reform, as well as Sen. John McCain's more longstanding efforts.

One reason for reform's popularity is the level of perceived abuse. Nearly all Americans, 93 percent, think politicians do special favors for their campaign contributors; 80 percent think it happens "often."

And the public isn't happy about it. Eight in 10 call it a problem; 62 percent a "big" problem. More than two-thirds think special favors for contributors tend to be unethical, although fewer, 42 percent, think they tend to be illegal.

Special favors for political contributors

A problem 81%Unethical 68Illegal 42

All the same, many people doubt that new campaign finance laws would solve the problem: Just a quarter of Americans are convinced that stricter laws would do a lot to reduce the influence of money in politics. Those people give it a high priority but there just aren't that many of them.

Moreover, a significant minority, 42 percent, think stronger enforcement of current laws is the better approach. Given this option, 54 percent prefer new, stricter laws considerably fewer than the three-quarters who support the concept more generally.

Bottom of the List

These doubts help explain why campaign finance reform consistently rates so low on the public's agenda. In this poll only 18 percent say it should be the "highest priority" item for Bush and the Congress, ranking it last out of six issues tested, far below heavy-hitters such as education, the economy and Social Security.

Highest priority for Bush and Congress

Improving education 53%Keeping the economy strong 47 Protecting Social Security 42Cutting taxes 29Environmental protection 27 Campaign finance reform 18