February 12, 2010

Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties

Section 4: Economic Policies and Government’s Role

In the year since Congress passed Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill, the public has steadily grown less supportive of the plan. Nearly half of Americans (49%) now disapprove of the $800 billion package, while just 38% approve of the measure. In October, opinion was evenly divided (44% approved, 44% disapproved). Last June, a 55% majority approved and 39% disapproved.

While opinions remain divided along partisan lines, support for the stimulus plan has dropped among Republicans, independents and Democrats alike. The share of Democrats who approve of the stimulus has fallen from 78% to 60% since June of last year. The already low 27% approval among Republicans has slipped to just 13% over the same time period. A slim majority of independents (52%) supported the stimulus in June, but the balance of opinion is negative today (48% disapprove and 39% approve).

Bank Bailout Now Seen as Wrong Decision

Much like the stimulus plan, the government’s decision in 2008 to make loans to secure financial institutions also faces greater public opposition today than it did nearly a year ago. About half (51%) now say it was the wrong thing for the government to make loans of roughly $700 billion to keep financial institutions and markets secure, while 40% say it was the right thing to do. Last March, nearly half (48%) said it was the right thing for the government to do, while 40% said it was the wrong thing.

Opposition to the bailout has increased mostly among Democrats and independents. Independents were divided over the bailout in March 2009 (46% right thing, 42% wrong thing); today independents oppose the plan by a 56% to 36% margin. Over the same time period, opposition to the loans among Democrats has increased from 23% to 36%. Among Republicans, 62% opposed the bailout last March, as do 67% today.

Views of Government’s Role

As has been the case since last March, more Americans say they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services (50%) rather than a bigger government providing more services (40%). At the same time, support for government to exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years is down somewhat from roughly a year ago. Americans are now evenly divided on whether it is a good idea (46%) or a bad idea (42%) for greater government involvement in the economy.

As expected, most Republicans (73%) say they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services; a majority of independents (56%) agree. Most Democrats (59%) favor a bigger government providing more services.

Republicans and Democrats also hold opposing views on whether the government should exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years. About six-in-ten Republicans (61%) say this is a bad idea, while roughly the same percentage of Democrats (62%) think it is a good idea. Independents are divided: 45% take a negative view of greater government control over the economy, while the same percentage sees this as a good idea.

Despite the public’s reservations over more government control over the economy, there is substantial support for the government to more strictly regulate the way financial companies do business. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) say this is a good idea, compared with 33% who see stricter financial regulations as a bad idea.

Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (79%) say that stricter government regulations of financial firms are a good idea. But there is much less support for this idea among independents (52% good idea). As many Republicans see tougher regulations on financial firms as a bad idea (48%) as a good idea (45%).

Most Angry About Executive Bonuses

More than six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the large bonuses paid to executives of some banks and financial institutions makes them angry. This is substantially more than say they are angry about bailing out banks and financial institutions that made poor decisions (48% angry). Comparatively, anger about the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Congress (39%) and the growing federal budget deficit (37%) is less widespread.

Anger over the bank bonuses crosses party lines. Still, somewhat more Democrats (72%) than independents (61%) or Republicans (57%) say the bonuses for financial executives make them angry.

Close to half (48%) of the public says the federal bailout of major banks and financial institutions makes them angry. This is the same as the percentage that expressed anger over the bailout in March 2009. A much higher share of Republicans (60%) than Democrats (41%) or independents (49%) say the government bailouts of banks and financial institutions makes them angry.

About four-in-ten Americans (39%) say the gridlock in Washington between Democrats and Republicans makes them angry. Independents (44%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (33%) to express anger over partisan gridlock; 40% of Democrats say they are angry over gridlock in Washington.

Roughly the same percentage (37%) says that growing federal deficits make them feel angry, which is unchanged from March 2009. Far more Republicans (49%) and independents (41%) than Democrats (25%) express anger over growing deficits.

Banks Viewed Unfavorably

Most Americans (68%) say they have an unfavorable opinion of major U.S. banks and financial institutions. Within that group, 29% say they have a very unfavorable opinion of these businesses and 39% say they have a mostly unfavorable opinion.

None of the other business sectors tested elicits such negative opinions. Public opinion toward U.S. automakers is divided (43% favorable, 45% unfavorable). Technology companies, by contrast, are viewed favorably by 71% of Americans with just 13% expressing an unfavorable opinion.

The negative opinions of major U.S. banks and financial institutions are shared across the partisan spectrum. About seven-in-ten Democrats (72%) say they have an unfavorable opinion of these businesses, as do 68% of independents and 67% of Republicans.

There also are no significant partisan differences in views of U.S. automakers; 47% of independents have a favorable opinion of U.S. automakers as do 42% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats. And solid majorities across party lines hold a favorable impression of technology companies.