2012 survey: Public opposes unlimited campaign spending

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

WASHINGTON — About two-thirds of Americans oppose unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions, according to the 2012 State of the First Amendment national survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

Campaign spending is a volatile issue in this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns. Asked whether corporations and unions should be able to spend as much as they want in support of or opposition to political candidates, 63% said “no,” 30% said “yes” and 7% were undecided. In a controversial 2010 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court — in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — removed spending limits on those groups, citing the First Amendment’s protection for political speech.

The survey also found that 59% of Americans oppose — with 44% saying they “strongly oppose” — the government’s being allowed to take control of the Internet and limit access to social media and Web outlets such as AOL and Yahoo in the event of a national emergency.

The latest results in the First Amendment Center-sponsored surveys, conducted since 1997 on public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment, were released today at the National Press Club in a presentation by First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson and Senior Vice President Gene Policinski.

On other social-media issues, the survey found:

  • 62% said public schools should not be able to punish students for posting offensive content on social media.
  • 46% said people should be allowed to post copyrighted material without paying rights fees as long as no money is being made, with 42% opposed. However, 64% would not approve of such postings if money was being made, and 59% favor prosecution of those who illegally distribute copyrighted music and movies.

“The survey results suggest that most Americans see unauthorized downloading as a crime, but a plurality also want to protect the right to use copyrighted content as part of their free expression, a legal principle called ‘fair use,’” Paulson said. “Free speech and copyright are not mutually exclusive.”

The event, a luncheon hosted by the Freedom Forum’s “Free Spirit” program, was co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the National Press Club.

Other results from the national survey:

  • Only 4% of those surveyed could name “petition” as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, the lowest percentage this year for any of the five freedoms.
  • Only freedom of speech was named by more than half of respondents, 65%. Freedom of religion was named by 28%, while just 13% named the freedoms of press and assembly.
  • 75% agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as an independent “watchdog” over government on behalf of the public; 62% disagreed with the statement, “The news media try to report the news without bias.”
  • 57% opposed public schools’ having the authority to discipline students who use their own personal computers at home to post material that school officials say is offensive.

“While Americans remain generally supportive of First Amendment freedoms, it’s clear that as a nation we need to re-energize our efforts to provide education about those rights, starting with understanding what they are,” said Policinski. “We need to prepare our fellow citizens for the tasks of defending and applying those five freedoms in the 21st century.”

The 2012 national survey of 1006 adults was conducted in June by telephone by the PERT Group, and directed by Dr. Kenneth Dautrich. The sampling error is +/-3.2%. The PERT Group is headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn., with offices in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and personnel in Stamford, Conn., Caldwell, N.J., and Philadelphia.

The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government. The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

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News media contacts:

  • First Amendment Center experts are available today to discuss the survey findings and other religious-liberty and free-expression issues. Gene Policinski, 615-579-5560 or gpolicinski@fac.org.
  • For information on how the survey was conducted: Ken Dautrich, PERT Group, 860-604-4305.
  • For general information about the 2012 survey: Brian Buchanan, 615-727-1543 or bbuchanan@fac.org.

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