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Campaign Finance and American DemocracyWhat the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters$
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David M. Primo and Jeffrey D. Milyo

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226712802

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226713137.001.0001

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(p.156) Chapter Nine Conclusion
Campaign Finance and American Democracy

David M. Primo

Jeffrey D. Milyo

University of Chicago Press

In the conclusion, Primo and Milyo summarize the book’s findings. (1) Americans know very little about money in politics, and ignorance about campaign finance is associated with greater support for reform. (2) Americans value First Amendment rights, but this support weakens for disfavored speakers (such as corporations) or if the issue is framed in a manner to emphasize money rather than political speech and participation. (3) Americans believe that corruption has infected nearly all aspects of the political process, and this cynicism is heightened by policy disagreement—what they call “contingent cynicism.” (4) Americans are polarized by party and ideology with regard to restrictions on campaign spending and contributions. They are less polarized on disclosure (which they like—at least in part) and public financing (which is thoroughly unpopular). (5) There is no scientific evidence that campaign finance reforms actually increase public trust in government. Based on these findings, Primo and Milyo conclude that campaign finance reform is not the cure for what ails American democracy, and they suggest instead that reformers, the media, scholars, and foundations devote their efforts to better educating the American public about the role of money in politics.

Keywords:   polarization, campaign finance, public opinion, trust in government, democracy, elections, interest groups

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