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Americans overwhelmingly favor election of judges but disapprove of judicial campaign fund-raising, fearing it affects fairness

Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, of Americans prefer electing their judges rather than having governors nominate them from a list prepared by a nonpartisan committee.

Yet when judges run for office they usually have to raise money for their election campaigns. Seven in 10 Americans believe that the necessity to raise campaign funds will affect a judge’s ruling once in office. Sixty-three percent of Americans think that pressures from past contributors would affect a judge’s fairness and impartiality to a great or moderate extent.

The findings come from a national survey of 1,002 Americans from August 3 to August 16, 2006, conducted for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. They are being released today in Washington to coincide with a first-ever conference on the rise in judicial campaign advertising and escalation of misleading attack ads. The event is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s

The results of the new study mirror what Charles Geyh, director of the American Judicature Society’s Center for Judicial Independence, calls the “Axiom of 80.”

Roughly 80% of the public prefers to select its judges by election and does so. Roughly 80% of the electorate does not vote in judicial elections. Roughly 80% of the electorate cannot identify the candidates for judicial office, and roughly 80% of the public believes that when judges are elected, their decisions are influenced by the campaign contributions they receive.

Public perceptions about the influence of campaign fund-raising foster a lack of confidence in the branch of government that was designed to be the most insulated from electoral pressures. This threatens to undermine the branch of government – the judiciary – which has consistently enjoyed higher levels of public trust than Congress and the Executive Branch (Peterson, 2007).