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Voters politically disconnected, poll says

DENVER -- As the two major parties gear up to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to win over voters this fall, Americans feel disconnected from government and ignored by the political process, a national survey has indicated, with nearly half of those polled saying they have no impact on what the government does.

"Our key finding was that people are really unhappy about their role, or lack of it, in the democratic process," pollster Peter D. Hart said. He surveyed cable television viewers -- a group that represents about 85 percent of the population -- in connection with this week's 25th anniversary of the public affairs network C-Span.

Respondents were asked which groups in American society have the most impact on Washington decision-making: Sixty-eight percent thought "large campaign contributors" and "large corporations" have a great deal of influence; about half said "lobbyists" and "the news media" are influential; and 20 percent said "the general public" has a great deal of influence over government decisions.

This sense of disconnection is not a new phenomenon. Hart asked a traditional polling question: Do you agree with the statement "People like me do not have any say about what the government does?" In last month's survey, 46 percent agreed, and 51 percent disagreed. A survey 50 years ago indicated that 32 percent of Americans felt they had no say in what the government does. "In the middle of the 20th century, most people felt that the democratic system was responsive to what they wanted," Hart said.

The survey found that the public supports various innovations proposed to counter this perceived "democratic deficit."

The survey was conducted Feb. 2-4 by telephone with 609 cable and satellite subscribers, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, and an overlay of 512 C-Span subscribers, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

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