The Washington Post reported Iast April that “money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.” Every Voice has a blog where it is keeping track of what all the candidates have said about the issue—from the Sanders, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich campaigns past, through the Trump and Clinton campaigns present. It’s a long list and every candidate is on it.
And a recent poll conducted by Ipsos for Issue One confirmed what many have observed as the 2016 campaign season has unfolded: people across the political spectrum believe that the influence of money in politics is pervasive and dangerous—and yet, we have not seen national legislation addressing the problem for more than a decade.
Could 2016 mark a political tipping point? Public opinion already seems to have tipped. The poll found significant agreement on the problem of money in politics across a broad range of demographics: by region, by generation, by economic status, and by gender. Likewise, the views captured here are broadly shared by Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Unfortunately, as much as people want to see real solutions, many are skeptical that change is likely.
Electeds listen to big donors, not “people like me”
Fully 93 percent of those surveyed believe that their elected officials listen to their big donors, rather than voters like them. Pew Research Center also found that 74 percent of US voters say elected officials “don’t care what people like me think,” and 76 percent think the the government is run by a few big interests.
Only 19 percent feel it works “for the benefit of all the people.” It’s not a stretch to see how these attitudes about governance erode Americans’ faith in government more generally.
Seniors and millennials alarmed by big money’s influence
Among older respondents (those over 55 years of age), Issue One found that 90 percent say money in politics is a bigger problem than ever before. Overall, a robust 80 percent say it’s worse than ever.
As Issue One points out, a May 2016 Greenpeace poll of US millennial voters found that money in politics was their third-ranked most important issue, “trailing the usual suspects, the economy and national security,” but ahead of income inequality, student loan debt and climate change. The Issue One take: “Either party is in a position to take the lead with millennials.”
A political opportunity for candidates?
For about one-third of Independents, Issue One found that money in politics is one of their top three concerns. Similarly, seven in 10 US voters overall (and 75 percent of Independents) think that “money in politics is a legitimate risk to our democracy.” And more than 3 out of 4 (78 percent) agree that we need some kind of sweeping change to address this problem.
When voters’ concerns are this highly activated, it suggests that the issue could prove useful for candidates who want to distinguish themselves.
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However, candidates also face a good deal of skepticism. On the one hand, Issue One found that four out of five Democrats and Republicans want their elected officials to work across the aisle to minimize the impact of money in politics. On the other hand, though, a much slimmer 40 percent of voters think that either party is likely to pass new laws to control it. Somewhat stronger numbers attest to belief that voters’ own party would do something about it if they could. This is strongest among Democrats.
It is reasonable to conclude that US voters would respond positively to candidates offering credible solutions to boost voter power and stem the influence of big money in politics. It is potentially a good plank for coalition-building, especially among Democrats and Independents. As Yes! Magazine reported a while back, grassroots and advocacy groups are already gathering steam on the ground. And look no further than Cascadia for examples of big money down, people up efforts are steaming full speed ahead: Honest Elections Seattle was passed by voters with flying colors and will be implemented over the coming year; Open and Accountable Elections Portland is building support; and the Washington Government Accountability Act is on the ballot.
For those willing to take the issue seriously, fixing the problem of money in politics might actually be more valuable than the money itself.
A note on methodology: “These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted June 17-20, 2016 on behalf of Issue One. For the survey, a sample of roughly 1,006 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online in English.”