Americans overwhelmingly are concerned that Congress' rejection of a financial rescue plan could lead to a more severe economic decline in this country. And the public divides about evenly on whether or not the government ultimately will be able to prevent it.
Yet registered voters at the same time also divide about evenly on the bailout plan itself. Barely more than half are ready to call the situation a "crisis," though nearly all the rest call it a serious problem. And while a narrow majority is pessimistic about the economy's future over the next year, six in 10 remain optimistic about their own family's finances.
Eighty-eight percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, conducted Monday night, say they're concerned the action in Congress could worsen an economic downturn; 51 percent are "very" concerned about it.
With the administration and Congressional leaders saying they'll take up the issue again, 51 percent are confident the government's efforts ultimately will prevent the country's financial situation from getting worse. But nearly as many, 47 percent, lack that confidence. And a mere 6 percent are "very" confident of success.
Nonetheless, as noted, voters divide on the plan itself ¬– using up to $700 billion to shore up failing financial institutions – with 45 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed. (Contrary to the vote pattern in Congress, support is higher among Republicans, 55 percent, than Democrats, 42 percent.) Registered voters narrowly, by a 6-point margin, think the plan would have done too much to help financial institutions that got into trouble, and by much broader margins think it would have done too little to help the economy, and especially, to assist ordinary Americans.
By 2-1, 44-21 percent, the Republicans in Congress are seen as mainly responsible for rejection of the plan. Blame for the current financial situation more broadly is widely cast, falling most heavily on George W. Bush (25 percent), followed by the financial institutions themselves (18 percent); 8 percent blame the federal government overall, 8 percent Congress.
Nearly everyone sees the situation as a problem. But fewer, 52 percent, call it a crisis; 43 percent instead call it a serious problem, but not a crisis. Sense of a crisis is higher among women than men (60 percent vs. 43 percent), higher among Democrats than Republicans (60 percent vs. 44 percent, with independents between them) and among people who are pessimistic about the economy or their family finances.
Overall, 53 percent of registered voters are pessimistic about the economy's future – perhaps fewer than expected, given the talk of impending crisis – and 61 percent remain optimistic about their own family's financial situation. While a majority, that's well down from the level of personal optimism in recent years – as high as 82 percent in 2006.
The action in Congress and resulting fall in the stock market did not immediately change most attitudes. Results to several of these same questions in interviews Saturday and Sunday were similar, including optimism or pessimism on the economy and family finances, whether the situation is a crisis, views of the government's plan and opinions on whether the government ultimately will prevent the situation from worsening.
METHODOLOGY: This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 29, 2008, among a random sample of 424 registered voters. The results have a 5-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.