Voter Outrage Over Political Money Continues to Escalate

Voter Outrage Over Political Money Continues to Escalate

Even as most of the presidential candidates have pivoted their focus to foreign affairs and the rise of ISIS, poll after poll makes one thing clear: voters are still concerned about the influence of money in the political system.

This voter alarm is escalating hand in hand with campaign spending. The Pew Research Center released a report last week showing that even as voter turnout ebbs and flows between presidential and midterm elections, the amount of money dumped into congressional campaigns grows with each cycle. At the same time, the proportion of total spending that comes from outside groups like super PACs has soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. In the meantime, spending by traditional PACs and party committees’ spending has held steady.

And as the 2016 races heat up, this election cycle is on pace to see by far the biggest influx of political money in American history. Candidates—mostly Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—have dished out plenty of money-related accusations, and will no doubt do so again in this week’s presidential debates (which are the last of the year). Yet the candidates have spent surprisingly little time talking about actual policy solutions.

Meanwhile, polls showing voter disgust over money in politics just keep piling up.

·      Last week, an Associated Press poll showed that 78 percent of both Democrats and Republicans favor requiring donor disclosure—87 percent believe full disclosure of donors would be an effective reform in the face of the rising tide of “dark” money in elections.  

·      A Pew survey released in November showed that more than three-quarters of both Republicans and Democrats believe that money has more influence politics now than ever before. A full 77 percent of American thought there should be spending limits for campaigns; 64 percent thought the high cost of running for office discouraged good candidates from running.

·      According to a summer New York Times/CBS poll, nearly half of all Americans (across the political spectrum) think we need to completely change the way we fund campaigns, with wide support for reining in super PAC and wealthy donor influence.

·      In the wake of Citizens United, 78 percent of Americans thought the highly consequential ruling should be overturned, according to a Bloomberg survey.

The challenge, of course, will be building public consensus around solutions. Debate moderators could help move the conversation forward by asking pointed questions about candidates’ reform proposals. So far the debates have been heavy on political drama, and short on concrete policy discussion. But until candidates tackle the issue directly, voter anger will likely continue to mount.