Super PACs and the changed campaign finance terrain are all the rage this election season, and a national poll released Tuesday found a quarter of Americans — including large numbers of racial minorities and young voters, the essential components of Barack Obama’s electoral coalition — are less likely to vote as a result.
The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of NYU Law School’s Brennan Center For Justice, asked 1,000 voters nationwide about Super PACs, corruption, and voting. Fully a quarter of Americans — 26 percent — say they are less likely to vote because Super PACs and their donors are drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens, making their votes less important:
The poll reveals that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe Super PAC spending will lead to corruption and that three in four Americans believe limiting how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption. Of those who expressed an opinion, more than 80 percent believe that, compared with past elections, the money being spent by political groups this year is more likely to lead to corruption. And, most alarmingly, the poll revealed that concerns about the influence Super PACs have over elected officials undermine Americans’ faith in democracy: one in four respondents — and even larger numbers of low-income people, African Americans, and Latinos — reported that they are less likely to vote because big donors to Super PACs have so much more sway than average Americans.
But there is reason for skepticism.
“People love to say that there’s corruption and that politicians are bought and sold but it doesn’t seem to affect much their rates of turnout, especially because you very rarely believe the person you like is corrupt,” said Michael Franz, an expert on interest groups and money in politics at Bowdoin College. “Turnout rates haven’t changed much in recent years, and if anything they’ve gone up as the influence of soft money to parties, and big donors and issue advocacy campaigns [outside groups] have taken hold.”
Indeed, though Democrats could panic at the idea that a post-Citizens United world will depress their voters more than Republicans, personality tends to trump process issues in campaigns, and Barack Obama will likely recapture some of the magic of his 2008 bid as the contrast with Mitt Romney sharpens in the fall.