September 30, 2008

Small Plurality Backs Bailout Plan

Support Declines as Anger Runs High

Overview

As Congress debated the financial bailout bill over the past week, public support for government action has declined. A new Pew Research Center survey conducted Sept. 27-29 finds a narrow 45%-38% plurality of the public saying that a government plan to invest or commit billions of dollars to secure financial institutions is the right thing to do. This represents considerably less support than the plan engendered immediately after it was first proposed. A Pew survey conducted Sept. 19-22 had found a wide majority of the public favoring government action (57% right thing, 30% wrong thing).

The public is expressing both fear and loathing about the idea of the government committing billions of dollars to solve the problem. Six-in-ten Americans (61%) say that they feel angry about the government’s plan, and half (50%) also admit they are scared. Many report being confused (43%), but relatively few (29%) describe themselves as optimistic.

Anger about the rescue plan crosses party lines, and Republicans, Democrats and independents all offer less support for the idea now than they did at the outset. Among Republicans there has been a 15-point decline – from 64% to 49% – in the share saying the bailout is the right thing to do. Support among Democrats has fallen 10 points from 56% to 46%. As a consequence, while Republicans were slightly more supportive initially, support for the plan is now about the same among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

The new Pew Research Center survey, conducted among 1,505 adults reached over both landline phones and cell phones, finds Democrats expressing more concern than Republicans about several aspects of the current financial situation. The public’s top worry about the current situation is that “those who are responsible for causing the crisis will be let off the hook.” Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) say they are very concerned about this, including 77% of Democrats, 69% of Republicans and 69% of independents. More than six-in-ten (63%) say they are very concerned that “the government’s actions won’t fix the things that caused this problem in the first place.” This, too, is of greater worry to Democrats and independents than to Republicans.

A 54% majority of the public says they are very concerned that the government’s action “won’t do enough to help homeowners in danger of losing their homes.” The partisan gap is greatest on this aspect of the bill, with 66% of Democrats and just 37% of Republicans seeing this as a major concern. Perhaps surprisingly, Republicans do not express particular worry about excessive government involvement in the nation’s financial markets. Overall, 44% of Americans are very concerned that “the government is becoming too involved in financial markets.” This includes roughly equal numbers of Republicans (45%), Democrats (40%) and independents (47%).

Voters continue to give Barack Obama a substantial edge over John McCain in terms of being better able to handle the current financial problems. By a margin of 46% to 33%, more voters cite him as the candidate who could best address the current problems involving investment banks and companies with ties to the housing market. This reflects the overwhelming backing of Democratic voters on this issue, along with a slim 38% to 32% edge over McCain among independents. Obama’s 13-point advantage over McCain on this issue is comparable to the 12-point advantage he held in the Pew survey last week.

Overall, the public has had a mixed reaction to the congressional response to the bailout. A slim plurality (37%) says they think Congress is giving the right amount of consideration to recent problems in the financial markets. But another 32% say Congress is taking too much time debating the issue. Fewer people (22%) are of the opinion that Congress is being too hasty in addressing the situation.

Ratings of the pace of Congress’ response are not partisan: four-in-ten in both parties say Congress is giving the crisis the right amount of consideration; somewhat fewer independents agree (33%).

Most Americans (54%) say they have given a lot of thought to the debate in Washington over how to respond to recent problems in the financial markets. Those who have given a lot of thought to the issue are much more likely than others to say they are very concerned that those who are responsible for the crisis will be let off the hook, that the government will not address root causes of the crisis, and that it gets the government too involved in the markets.

Despite their higher level of concern about aspects of the situation, those who have given the issue a lot of thought offer the same bottom-line opinion about the government’s plan as do people who have given it less consideration: 45% of both groups say government action is the right thing to do.

Those who have given the issue a lot of consideration also are more patient with Congress. Among Americans who have thought a lot about the crisis, 43% say Congress is giving the issue the right amount of consideration, while just 28% say Congress is taking too much time debating the issue. Those who have given little or no thought to the issue are more likely to criticize Congress for moving too slowly.

Not surprisingly, opponents of the plan to have the government invest billions into securing the markets express the greatest worry about the limitations of the plan. But even among the 45% of Americans who say this is the right thing for the government to do, concerns run high. Fully two-thirds (68%) of Americans who back the bailout plan say they are very concerned that it will let those responsible for causing the problems off the hook, and 58% also say they are very worried that it will not fix the things that caused this problem in the first place.

The biggest gap between proponents and opponents of the government bailout is over the issue of excessive government involvement in the markets. Among those who see the bailout plan as the wrong thing to do, 60% say they are very worried that the government is becoming too involved in financial markets. Among those who see the bailout as the right thing to do, just 33% are equally worried.