After Citizens United v. FEC, More Polling

Matt Sundquist of the legal affairs blog, Scotusblog, examines two public opinion surveys taken after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held 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.

We had already critiqued one, a Washington Post/ABC survey, for the tendentious phrasing of its questions. The other survey Sunquist writes about was conducted for the self-styled campaign finance reform advocates, Common Cause, Change Congress, and the Public Campaign Action Fund, which seek to limit campaign spending and abridge First Amendment Rights.

[Neither] of the surveys mentions important distinctions between federal laws, which previously banned corporate contributions, and state laws, which in many cases have permitted it for years.  And in all three of the questions, the broad language seems to affirmatively mislead respondents.  Although respondents would assume that the survey used accurate, clear language and provided all of the information needed to form an opinion, the survey did neither.

Although the language of these polls is flawed, it is possible to design an improved poll.  Future Citizens United polls ought to distinguish between state and federal laws and eschew mistaken categorical claims.  Knowing that respondents will apply conversational definitions to words, the polls’ creators should use precise language, clarify what types of corporate and union spending are permitted, and accurately contrast the new scope of campaign laws with previous laws.

As we noted in a Saturday post, a survey conducted by the Center for Competitive Politics — which supported the Citizens United ruling — posed specific questions that elicited more informative responses.

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