Behind the rise in private giving to political campaigns is a trend called "interest group liberalism" -- looking to government for help despite complaints of too much government, says Everett C. Ladd, director of the Roper Opinion Reaseardh Center.
"If government is doing a lot for individuals and institutions, people feel they have more of a stake in the makeup of government," Mr. Ladd says.
"For example, the University of Connecticut's professors' organization has just decided to contribute to state legislative campaigns. They figure they have to do business with the Legislature, so it is only prudent to invest in elections."
Legal changes, permitting more giving at the state and local level, are part of the story. But public attitudes toward politics are not as ungenerous or downbeat as popular wisdom dictates.
Mr. Ladd predicts voter turnout, as well as private giving to campaigns, could improve for this election.
"On the attitudinal side, the public grumbles about politics, but there isn't any genuine hostility toward the candidates in 1980," Ladd says. "There is no deep alienation, but rather doubts about the candidates' ability to manage the economy and foreign affairs."