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Views on Government Aid Depend on the Program

Views on Government Aid Depend on the Program

PRINCETON, NJ -- The new administration of President Barack Obama has proposed a number of major government stimulus or aid packages aimed at jump-starting the flagging economy, assisting homeowners who face foreclosure, and providing help for the shaky economic situations of the banking and auto manufacturing sectors of the economy.


Each of these plans has generated controversy. The Obama administration and other advocates have argued that the massive government spending on these programs is necessary to keep a bad economic situation from getting far worse. Critics have found fault with the amounts of money involved and the long-term impact or the lack thereof.

And the American public? A review and analysis of recent polling assessing the various government initiatives makes it possible to summarize American public opinion as follows: 1) Americans are generally behind the $787 billion stimulus plan (officially known as the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act"), signed into law on Feb. 17, although with significant reservations; 2) Americans are solidly in favor of aid to homeowners facing foreclosure; 3) Americans are solidly against giving further aid to the auto companies; and 4) Americans are generally against the idea of providing further aid to ailing banks (although support for an actual government takeover of failing banks is fluid and depends on how such a process is described).

1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

A majority of Americans support the broad stimulus plan that President Obama signed into law on Feb. 17. However, there is no majority consensus that it will make things better, and there are concerns about various aspects of the plan.

A Feb. 10 Gallup Poll showed 59% support for the new stimulus law just prior to its passage by Congress. A Feb 19-22 Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted after the plan became law found a similar 64% support for the plan, described in that poll as the government spending "about $800 billion on tax cuts, construction projects, and aid to states and individuals to try to stimulate the economy."

Despite this overall majority support, there is no consensus on Americans' part that the plan will greatly improve economic conditions. Only 47% of Americans in a Feb. 20-22 USA Today/Gallup poll say the economy will be better off than if no stimulus had been passed, and a quarter say the economy will be worse off. While 53% of Americans in a Feb. 18-22 New York Times/CBS News poll say the stimulus package will make the current economic crisis better, only 32% say it will create "a substantial number" of new jobs and just 19% say it will shorten the recession significantly.

The Gallup Poll shows that 41% of Americans say it would have been better to spend less on the stimulus package, while the New York Times/CBS News poll shows that almost 7 out of 10 say even more money will be needed to stimulate the economy in the months ahead.

The Gallup Poll also asked Americans to assess the greater risk between 1) spending government money to improve the economy but adding too much to the federal debt, and 2) spending too little to stimulate the economy. A majority of Americans said the first risk (adding too much to the federal debt) is the greater of the two.

2. Housing Foreclosure Relief Program

All current polling shows that a majority of better than 6 in 10 Americans support a government program to provide relief to homeowners facing foreclosure. This is a robust finding, evident across different question wordings in four separate recent polls.

Gallup found 64% support for homeowner relief worded as "giving aid to homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure." The New York Times/CBS News poll showed 61% support for "a plan to help homeowners refinance their mortgages, avoid foreclosure and make more credit available for mortgages." The Washington Post/ABC News poll found 64% support for "the federal government using $75 billion to provide refinancing assistance to homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure on their mortgages." A CNN/Opinion Research poll found 63% support for "the federal government providing assistance to homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages."

Even with solid support for the idea, Gallup polling shows that slightly over half of Americans do not think this program is necessarily a fair one. (More on this will be forthcoming at

3. Federal Aid to Banking

Current polling shows majority opposition to the idea of providing further government aid to ailing or failing banks in the United States. This is again a robust finding, evident across different question wordings in several recent polls.

Gallup's Feb. 20-22 poll shows that a majority of 59% of Americans are opposed to "giving aid to U.S. banks and financial companies in danger of failing."

The New York Times/CBS News poll shows, in somewhat similar fashion, 39% approval/50% disapproval for the idea of "the federal government providing money to banks and other financial institutions to try to help fix the country's economic problems." The CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds that 62% of Americans oppose the idea of providing the "remaining money" -- after having been told as part of the question wording that "last fall Congress and President Bush approved a government program that would spend up to $700 billion to provide assistance to banks and other large financial institutions. About half that money has already been spent."

At the same time, Gallup polling shows that support for the separate idea of the federal government taking control of ailing banks is fluid, and depends on the words used to describe such a process. A majority of Americans favor the idea of a temporary government takeover of failing banks in order to stabilize them, but a majority is in opposition when such action is described as nationalizing the banks.

4. Auto bailout

All current polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose the federal government spending more money to help bail out the auto companies, beyond what it has already provided.

Gallup finds 58% opposition to "giving aid to U.S. automakers who are in danger of going bankrupt." The New York Times/CBS News poll finds 68% saying no more assistance should be provided to major U.S. auto companies after respondents had been told that the federal government has "given some of the major U.S. auto companies more than $13 billion dollars in loans to prevent them from going into bankruptcy." The Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 68% opposition to providing an additional $14 billion in government loans to the U.S. automakers given that "the federal government has provided $25 billion in loans to two of the big U.S. automakers and put in place a government board to oversee their restructuring." The CNN/Opinion Research poll finds that 61% of Americans oppose a program to provide two of the major U.S. auto companies with "several billion dollars in assistance."


American public opinion concerning new government spending to address various problems plaguing the U.S. economy can be fairly well summarized -- at least for the moment. There is majority support for the stimulus bill President Obama signed into law last week, albeit with significant trepidations about its impact. There is majority support for the concept of helping homeowners who face foreclosure. On the other hand, there is clear majority opposition to government spending to help bail out failing banks and failing U.S. auto companies.

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