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Poll: Curbing Negativity Would Improve Political Campaigns

Respondents also favor shorter campaign season

As the airwaves become saturated with political attack ads ahead of the 2012 presidential election, most Americans say the campaign process would be better if negativity were discouraged and if advertisers came clean about who was paying for those assaults, according to an AARP Bulletin poll.

Of the 1,027 adults surveyed, those 50 and older (84 percent) were more likely than younger people (72 percent) to say disclosing who is paying for attack ads would improve the campaign process. Among all ages, one in five (20 percent) disagreed with the opinion that disclosing the sponsors of attack ads would improve the process.

See also: Where GOP contenders stand on your issues.

Overwhelmingly, older adults polled (80 percent versus 70 percent for those under age 50) said it would be better if sponsors of independent ads were also revealed.

The poll was conducted in October to assess public opinion on political campaigns and possible reforms leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

When asked about eliminating the Electoral College as a possible reform, 40 percent of those polled said that would be an improvement, while 51 percent disagreed.

Despite the unusually large number of Republican debates that have taken place beginning in May, 40 percent of those polled say that there are "about the right amount" of debates, while 34 percent say there are too many and 20 percent believe there are too few.

David Dogens, 70, a retired cook from Carmichael, Calif., near Sacramento, says he'd like to see debates take place in communities around the nation, with "regular people" asking the questions.

"The debates are staged," he says. Candidates "know what they're going to talk about. I think they should be open to the people so that regular people can ask questions. Candidates need to see what the people really want to know, not what they think is best to discuss."

Among other findings:

  • 54 percent of respondents think political campaigns should last less than six months; 37 percent think they should last between six months and a year.
  • 82 percent believe that limiting campaign spending would improve the campaign process.
  • 69 percent say raising the limit for individual campaign contributions would not improve the campaign process; 52 percent say reducing it would.
  • 56 percent say holding a few regional primaries instead of caucuses or state primaries would make the process better.
  • 69 percent didn't think mandatory voting would help improve the campaign process.

Also of interest: Medicare is biggest issue for 2012 campaign. >>

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.