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Public Criticism of Enron Intensifies

by Jennifer Robison

The Enron debacle is the scandal that keeps on giving. Thousands of Enron employees are jobless, millions of stockholders lost money, the Bush administration has been splattered with the fallout, and the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history keeps making news. Since former Enron vice chairman Clifford Baxter's apparent suicide, four key Enron executives have refused to testify before the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee on the grounds that their stories might incriminate them. The oft-subpoenaed former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay will probably plead the fifth when he appears before two other committees this week.

Even though Enron's leaders have little to say, Americans have formed some fairly strong opinions about the company. In a Jan. 25-27 Gallup poll*, a majority, 65%, said they believe Enron "did something illegal." That's up 23 percentage points from a Jan. 11-14 poll. A much smaller number is revising its opinion of Enron's ethics. The Jan. 25-27 poll reported that 17% think the energy company "did something unethical but not illegal," -- but that number had been 29% just 11 days before.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,011 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Jan. 25-27, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is +/- 3 percentage points. 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.

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