October 8, 2009

Mixed Views of Economic Policies and Health Care Reform Persist

Section 3: Views of Economic Policies

Less Support for Financial Regulation

Most Americans say the government has made little or no progress toward fixing the problems that caused the crisis in the financial markets last fall. Just 28% say the government has made a great deal or some progress in this regard.

At the same time, support for stricter government regulation of the way major financial companies do business has slipped. Currently, 54% say it is a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way financial companies to business, down from 60% in April.

Republicans are the most critical of the government’s progress toward fixing the problems that caused last year’s crisis. Just 18% give the government positive marks, while 47% say they have made just a little progress, and 34% say no progress at all. Yet Republicans generally oppose more strictly regulating the way major financial companies do business (57% say this is a bad idea). Four-in-ten Democrats (40%) say the government has made at least some progress toward fixing problems in the markets, and 70% say it is a good idea to increase regulations.

Fewer Approve of Stimulus Package

Nearly eight months after its passage, the public has grown less supportive of the economic stimulus plan passed in February. Currently, as many disapprove as approve (44% each) of Barack Obama’s $800 billion economic stimulus plan. As recently as June, 55% approved and 39% disapproved.

But one of the most visible elements of that plan – spending additional billions of dollars on public works projects – remains overwhelmingly popular. Seven-in-ten (70%) say this spending has been good for the economy, while just 21% say it has been bad.

By comparison, other major government policies to improve the economy are viewed far less positively. Government aid to U.S. automakers has never been popular, and by a 54% to 37% margin more say government loans to General Motors and Chrysler have been bad for the economy than good for the economy. And by a 52% to 39% margin more say government loans to major U.S. banks and financial institutions have done more harm than good.

Support for February’s stimulus bill has dropped across partisan lines. In June, 78% of Democrats approved of the stimulus plan – 69% say the same today. Among Republicans, approval fell from 27% to 17%. And a positive balance of opinion among independents in June (52% approve, 42% disapprove) has now turned around (40% approve, 48% disapprove).

While most Republicans and a plurality of independents disapprove of Obama’s $800 billion stimulus plan, majorities of both groups believe that a key component of that plan – billions in government spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects – has been effective. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) and independents (63%) say this spending has been good for the economy, while barely a quarter (26% respectively) say it has been bad for the economy. Roughly eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats say this spending has been good for the economy.

There also continues to be a substantially different reaction between how younger and older Americans view the stimulus bill. While those younger than 30 approve of the bill by a 56% to 30% margin, the balance of opinion among those 65 and older is nearly the reverse (32% approve, 54% disapprove). There is far less difference of opinion between young and old when it comes to the positive impact of spending on public works.