What a difference a question makes. A couple of weeks ago, we exposed the biased and misleading questions behind a widely-cited Washington Post poll, which supposedly found broad, bipartisan support for legislative limits on speech following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Citizens United case. The Center for Competitive Politics, however, has now released a poll with dramatically different findings.
Based on much more accurate and objective questions, the Center’s findings reiterate our call for caution on the part of lawmakers, who appear ready to rush through legislative measures that would curtail the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association.
The greatest virtue of the Center’s poll is its correct representation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. The survey began by explaining to those polled that:
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that incorporated entities—businesses, unions, and nonprofit advocacy groups—have a First Amendment right to spend money from their general treasuries to fund independent advertisements urging people to vote for or against candidates for public office.
This accurately represents the decision, which merely removed the ban on corporate independent political expenditures.
Tellingly, when presented with an accurate description of the decision, respondents to the Center’s poll indicated the complete opposite of respondents to the Washington Post poll. For instance, 51.2% of respondents disagreed with the government’s position that it could ban Citizens United from airing ads promoting Hillary: The Movie, or that the government could prevent Citizens United from making the movie available on a pay-per-view basis.
Moreover, 63% opposed the idea that “the government should have the power to limit how much some people speak about politics in order to enhance the voices of others.” And four hypothetical questions about “independent political expenditures by a teachers union, a trade association, an environmental nonprofit, and restaurants” found that a “plurality … supported the First Amendment right” of these organizations to make independent political expenditures.
Such results call into question the Washington Post’s contention that “Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose” the Citizens United decision, and that a “strong reservoir of bipartisan support” exists for legislative curtailment of the decision. Indeed, the Center’s poll found that only 14.2% thought that McCain-Feingold had successfully reduced the influence of special interests on federal elections, with 44.2% rejecting the proposition. The Center’s data shows that Americans believe in their uninhibited rights to political free speech, and would reject any attempt to again restrict these freedoms.
Andrew Odell currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm