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HPU/UNC Poll: N.C. Voters Say Super PACs Should be Illegal and Media Should Help Voters Recognize PAC Ads

04.10.2014

HIGH POINT, N.C., April 10, 2014 – A new poll by High Point University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill finds that large percentages of registered voters say super PACs—organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates they support—should be illegal and that the news media should help voters recognize which advertisements the organizations buy to support particular candidates.

When respondents were told that super PACs are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on political ads, a large majority of registered voters (63 percent) said they thought super PACs should be illegal. Of the 63 percent, fully 44 percent said they strongly believed this. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has reasoned that PACs’ ability to raise money and spend it on political advertising is constitutionally protected.

More than three-quarters of registered voters (77 percent) in the survey agreed with a statement that “news media should help voters recognize ads paid for by super PACs.”

A small majority of respondents (51 percent) could pick out an accurate definition of Super PAC from a list. Approximately the same percentage said they had not heard much at all about major spending in North Carolina by independent outside groups in the U.S. Senate race, and 45 percent said they did not remember seeing any ads they recognized as funded by super PACs.

Of the people who said they had seen super PAC funded ads, 46 percent said Republican Senate candidate received more such support and 19 percent said Democrats received more support from super PACS. Twenty-seven (27) percent said they did not know which party’s candidates in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race have had the most advertising support from super PACs.

More broadly, 46 percent of all respondents said the Republican party received the most support nationally from super PACs, while 24 percent said the Democratic party received more of the groups’ support across the United States.

Dr. Daniel Riffe, the Richard Cole Eminent Professor at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the fact that more than half the survey respondents know what a super PAC is could be viewed positively or negatively.

“In the 2012 presidential campaign, polls showed that about 40 percent of Americans knew about super PACs,” Riffe said. “Higher recognition in North Carolina this year points to escalating efforts by candidates to frame their opponents as pawns of special interests and media coverage of those groups’ spending. The question is whether greater awareness also means more people become more cynical about truth in politics and political advertising.”

 

Registered voters – Definition of Super PAC

What does the term “super PAC” refer to?

[correct response] A group able to accept unlimited political donations – 51 percent

Government clean-up projects at hazardous waste sites – 7 percent

A Congressional committee on the budget deficit – 14 percent

A popular video game for smartphones – 4 percent

Don’t know/Refused – 25 percent

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

Registered voters – Heard about Super PACs

How much, if anything, have you heard about major spending in North Carolina during this year’s U.S. Senate election by groups not directly associated with the candidates or the official campaigns?

A lot – 16 percent

A little – 27 percent

Not much at all – 52 percent

Don’t know/Refused – 6

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

Registered voters – Legality of Super PACs

Organizations known as super PACS can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates they support. Supporters say this is a form of free speech while opponents say this allows groups or wealthy individuals to have unfair influence. Do you think it should be legal or illegal for these super PACS to operate?  Would you say you believe that somewhat or strongly?

Strongly legal – 8 percent

Somewhat legal – 19 percent

Neither – 4 percent

Somewhat illegal – 19 percent

Strongly illegal – 44 percent

Don’t know/refused – 7 percent

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

Registered voters – Remember Ads from Super PACs

Thinking back now, do you remember seeing any ads that you would say were funded by super PAC groups? [IF YES] Would you say a few or a lot?

No – 45 percent

Yes. A few – 20 percent

Yes. A lot – 21 percent

Don’t know/Refused – 15 percent

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

Registered voters – North Carolina Senate Candidate Support from Super PACs

Based on what you have seen here in North Carolina, which party’s candidates for U.S. Senator have had the most advertising support from super PACs? (Asked of respondents who remembered seeing super PAC ads)

Democrats – 19 percent

Republicans – 46 percent

Other candidate – 1 percent

Both are about the same – 8 percent

Don’t know/Refused – 27 percent

(North Carolina registered voters who may have seen super PAC ads sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014,  n = 240 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 6.3 percent)

 

Registered voters – National Major Party Support from Super PACs

In general, which major political party in the United States do you think gets the most support from super PACs?

Democrat – 24 percent

Republican – 46 percent

Tea Party – less than 1 percent

Libertarian – 0 percent

All about the same – 10 percent

Don’t know/Refused – 21 percent

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

Registered voters – News Media Role concerning Super PACs

Now I want you to tell me whether you agree or disagree with some statements. Please tell me if you Strongly Agree, Agree Somewhat, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree Somewhat, or Strongly Disagree.

News media should help voters recognize ads paid for by super PACs.

Strongly agree – 42 percent

Agree somewhat – 35 percent

Neither agree not disagree – 7 percent

Disagree somewhat – 7 percent

Strongly disagree – 6 percent

(Don’t know/refused) – 3 percent

(North Carolina registered voter sample surveyed March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014, n = 595 and margin of sampling error approximately = +/- 4 percent)

 

The most recent survey was fielded by live interviewers at the High Point University Survey Research Center calling on March 23 – 27 and March 29 – April 3, 2014. The responses from a sample of all North Carolina counties came from 595 self-identified registered voters with landline or cellular telephones. Registered voters were identified as responding “yes” to this question: “These days, many people are so busy they can’t find time to register to vote, or move around so often they don’t get a chance to re-register. Are you NOW registered to vote in your precinct or election district here in North Carolina or haven’t you been able to register so far?” The Survey Research Center contracted with Survey Sampling International to acquire this sample. The survey has an estimated margin of sampling error of approximately 4 percentage points for these respondents. The data are weighted toward registered voter population estimates for cellular and landline telephone use, age, gender and race. In addition to sampling error, factors such as question wording and other methodological choices in conducting survey research can introduce additional error into the findings of opinion polls.

Further results and methodological details from the most recent survey and past studies can be found at the Survey Research Center website at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/.  The materials on-line include past press releases as well as memos summarizing the findings (including approval ratings) for each poll since 2010.

You can follow the HPU Poll on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SurveyResearchCenter and Twitter at http://twitter.com/HPUSurveyCenter.

Dr. Daniel Riffe, the Richard Cole Eminent Professor at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, helped design and fund the survey. Dr. Martin Kifer, assistant professor of political science, serves as the director of the HPU Poll, and Dr. Sadie Leder Elder, assistant professor of psychology, serves as the associate director of the HPU Poll.

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