Off the Cliff

Feb 26, 2009 3:40pm

G.M.’s unhappy news today is countered by two hard-nosed results in our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll – the single most popular and the single least popular policy options we tested. Together they suggest the public is not in a forgiving mood.

The single most popular policy proposal, endorsed by 76 percent of Americans, is for stricter regulation of the country’s banks and other financial institutions. Indeed among those who favor such regulations, nearly two-thirds say they should be “much” stricter.

The least popular proposal we tested is of particular interest to General Motors, which today announced that it lost $9.6 billion in the last three months of 2008: Sixty-eight percent of Americans oppose additional federal loans to the auto industry, even if needed to stave off bankruptcy.

Loaning money to the automakers never has been popular. In our polling in late November and December a consistent 54 to 57 percent of Americans opposed the first round of loans. Today, not only has opposition risen, so has the intensity of that sentiment: Fifty-one percent "strongly" oppose such loans, up 17 points.

Interestingly, both of these – regulating the banks more strictly, and not making further loans to the automakers – are among the issues on which significant majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree.

We explored some of the reasons for opposition to automaker loans, not in this poll, but back in mid-December. Barely over a third bought the argument that Big 3 bankruptcies would further damage the broader economy. And three-quarters thought the automakers' problems were chiefly caused not by the bad economy – but by their own poor management.

These kinds of views – informed by the public's vast economic discontent - help explain the line President Obama tried to walk in his address Tuesday night: drawing a distinction between bailing out the economy, on one hand; and, on the other, bailing out the institutions that walked, ran or drove their Azteks off this cliff.

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