Amid the Republican Convention in Cleveland and the upcoming Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, the media and various organizations have been polling the public on what they think of the election. One storyline has consistently rung true: the people are fed up with the amount of money in our politics.
First, let’s look at the youngest voting bloc — millennials — 70 percent of whom donate time to causes that matter to them. The Harvard University Institute of Politics conducted a poll of millennials — who will steer the future of American politics as they grow more active in civic life — to discern their voting priorities. In their top five, and perhaps explaining Bernie Sanders’s appeal to young voters, was reducing the power of money in politics. For millennials, the poll shows, cash influencing our politicians lies at the root of all our other problems, from a stagnant economy to growing disunity in the political sphere. Party leadership should start listening to young voters and activists who are dismayed at our money-infested political system and speaking their minds. This same system stands in stark contrast to the reality they live in. Just look at the country’s ballooning $1.4 trillion in student loan debt that continues to climb faster than both credit card and auto loan debts.
Greenpeace also conducted a poll of millennial voters and found similar results. Money in politics was their third-ranked most important issue, trailing the usual suspects, the economy and national security, and even ahead of income inequality, student loan debt and climate change. The survey found that nearly half believed money influences both parties equally. Our take: Either party is in a position to take the lead with millennials.
But wait, there’s more. Public opinion isn’t just limited to the Congress in Washington. Michael Johnston, a professor of political science at Colgate University, dissects recent public opinion in The Washington Post in the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption conviction. While the eight-member Court didn’t find a significant effect by money on McDonnell’s conduct, a majority of Virginians did. Sixty-eight percent believed McDonnell took money in exchange for power in a poll after his 2014 conviction. The Post also cites a 2015 New York Times-CBS poll which found that 66 percent of adults believed wealthy Americans have an advantage in influencing elections. A full 84 percent believed “money has too much influence” in American politics. This has been a consistent finding for the last decade: Americans in poll after poll conclude that democracy is not working in their favor, and the cause is the influence of deep-pocketed special interests and donors.
These results corroborate what Issue One and Ipsos have found with a poll of our own. Reducing the influence of money in politics is a top five issue for Americans this November. More than three-quarters of Americans want sweeping changes in our campaign finance laws. That includes 85 percent of baby boomers — individuals at least 55 years old — who lived through the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act and McCain-Feingold, two of the largest campaign finance reform packages in modern history.
Like millennials, the American people overall are looking for a party to take the lead. Forty percent believe neither party is likely to pass laws that control the influence of money in politics. And because an overwhelming majority of Americans — 93 percent — believe that elected officials listen more to deep-pocketed donors than regular voters, this issue isn’t going away until both parties come together to support systemic changes to our campaign finance system.