How Do Americans View Political Involvement?

26 Sep, 2018

Public Affairs Pulse Survey

How Do Americans View Political Involvement?

Attitudes About Lobbying

Although the right to petition government is protected by the First Amendment, views toward lobbying — and lobbyists — remain quite complex. When asked how they would feel about a company that hired lobbyists, 50 percent of respondents to the 2014 Public Affairs Pulse survey said they’d feel less favorable toward the company.

Nonetheless, strong majorities of Americans approve of most major reasons for lobbying — and support has actually grown over the past two years. Eighty-four percent now support lobbying to protect jobs, 79 percent approve of lobbying to open new markets, and nearly three-quarters find lobbying “to create a level playing field” acceptable.

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Some 68 percent even support lobbying to reduce business costs, and a much smaller percentage — though still a majority — approve of lobbying to secure government funding.

In 2012, the last time this question was asked, a majority of respondents also approved of these same reasons for lobbying; but surprisingly, support has grown since then. Most notably, the percentage of people who say lobbying to reduce business costs is acceptable has risen from 63 percent in 2012. And even though Americans remain most wary of lobbying to secure government funding, the public is even increasingly accepting of this type of advocacy, up from 52 percent two years ago.

How Americans Think Political Campaigns Should Be Funded

On the question of campaign finance, Americans are strongly opposed to using federal tax dollars to finance political campaigns — with 61 percent rejecting the idea and only 37 percent saying it should be at least a minor source of funding. Instead, they prefer for citizens to contribute to campaigns — either as individuals or as a group. They also approve of candidates funding their own campaigns.

Remarkably, attitudes toward so-called super PACs have changed markedly since 2013, with 56 percent of Americans now saying these groups — also known as independent expenditure-only committees — should be at least a minor source of campaign funding. Last year, just 46 percent approved of using super PACs, while a majority were opposed.

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Despite Americans’ openness toward traditional political action committees contributing to campaigns, when asked how they would feel if a company formed a PAC, 47 percent of respondents said this would make them feel less favorable toward that company.

And 58 percent said they’d think less favorably of a company that paid for ads in support of a specific candidate in a political campaign.

For this year’s survey, an experiment was conducted to see if explaining the limits on contributions or campaign activities had any effect on public attitudes. It turns out that knowing more about campaign finance rules doesn’t necessarily make people more or less favorable toward different approaches.

Among the findings:

Those who were asked about their views of PAC donations along with a mention of the current legal limits were more likely to support such a funding source, compared with those who were asked the question with no mention of the limits.

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Providing information about the limits on super PACs seems to reduce the number of those without an opinion, while raising support for such donations — and opposition as well.

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Interestingly, for contributions from individuals, omitting mention of the legal limit causes essentially no change.

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The Public Affairs Pulse survey, conducted June 16-29, 2014, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, is based on telephone interviews with 1,609 adults nationwide.

2014 Pulse Survey

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Laura Horsley
Senior Director of Marketing and Communications
202.787.5963 | email