PRINCETON, NJ -- Supplying Detroit automakers with more taxpayer dollars to ward off bankruptcy doesn't fly with most Americans, 72% of whom say Congress should not authorize the additional $21 billion in emergency loans that General Motors and Chrysler are now requesting. Only 25% say Congress should provide the money.
President Barack Obama intimated in his speech before Congress Tuesday night that he, himself, does not want to reward the auto companies for their past poor performance. However, it is hard to find a constituency within the American public that might agree with his simultaneous commitment to help them anyway. The highest levels of support for granting the auto industry a second round of loans are found among self-described liberals (35%) and Democrats (33%).
Even in the Midwest -- the geographic hub of the U.S. auto industry -- only 28% of Americans think the federal government should make the loans.
Support for government aid to U.S. automakers is a bit higher when Americans are asked about it more generally, and in the context of four other economic rescue-oriented proposals. But even on this basis, only 41% of Americans favor "giving aid to U.S. automakers who are in danger of going bankrupt"; 58% are opposed.
Bailing out the auto industry ranks low on the list of economic measures tested in the Feb. 20-22 USA Today/Gallup poll -- about tied for last with giving aid to failing U.S. banks and other financial companies (39%). By comparison, Americans are much more amenable to government aid for homeowners in danger of losing their homes (64% in favor), and to aid to strapped state governments (67%).
Public Split Over U.S. Auto Survival
The Feb. 20-22 poll also asked Americans about the likelihood the U.S. car companies will remain in business. Currently, a bare majority of Americans -- 51% -- believe all of the Big Three U.S. auto companies will find a way to survive, while 47% predict one or more of them will go out of business.
This prognosis is worse than in mid-December, when 57% of Americans thought all three companies would survive.
How important these perceptions are to public support for the auto industry is at best unclear. Seven in 10 Americans who think all three companies will survive oppose a second round of emergency loans, as do 74% of those who predict one or more of them will likely go out of business.
Whether it's because of their badly reviewed testimony before Congress last year, their perceived mismanagement of their companies, or because of bailout fatigue, more generally, the U.S. auto executives' latest plea for taxpayer help is being met with little sympathy. Only 41% of Americans are generally in favor of providing aid to the auto industry to keep it out of bankruptcy. And that support drops to 25% when Americans are asked specifically whether the companies should now receive $21 billion in loans -- in addition to the billions already provided last year.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 20-22, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.