Democrats and White House negotiators appear to have struck a deal (subscription) on legislation providing $15 billion to bail out the Big Three automakers, pending Republican objections in the Senate. But there's another crucial group the Democrats and President Bush will have to convince: the American public. A handful of polls released this week show that a majority of Americans -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- oppose a government bailout of Detroit's Big Three.
In a recent Gallup poll, 43 percent of respondents supported a bailout if auto companies are in danger of bankruptcy, down 4 percentage points since November. An ABC/Washington Post poll [PDF] recorded even lower numbers: Only 37 percent of its respondents supported loaning carmakers the $34 billion executives recently requested, compared with 35 percent on Nov. 23 (when the figure cited by pollsters was only $25 billion). And opposition appears to transcend party lines, ABC/Post pollsters found, though slightly more Democrats are open to the loan -- 42 percent, versus 36 percent of both Republicans and independents.
While these polls suggest that Americans remain solidly against the bailout, the intensity of their opposition has lessened, according to the ABC/Post survey. While 30 percent of respondents recently indicated that they "strongly" oppose the bailout, that's down from the 36 percent who said so on Nov. 23.
A large majority of respondents in a recent CBS News poll [PDF] indicated that, if Congress does approve a bailout, the government should inject itself into the companies' dealings. Sixty-nine percent said the government should have a say in management decisions, and two-thirds indicated that the feds should require companies to build new cars that use alternative fuels. And, according to a survey [PDF] from the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News, most people who support the bailout want that money to come from the $700 billion bailout fund lawmakers created in October.
Pollsters from CBS and Gallup found that the executives running the industry are the ones facing the most blame. Sixty-five percent of Gallup respondents and 56 percent of those polled by CBS pegged the CEOs as the primary culprits. The union representing the auto industry -- the United Auto Workers -- comes in second in the Gallup poll, at 34 percent. Just 29 percent of Gallup respondents blamed the recession for the industry's current problems.
As resistant as the public is to the idea of a bailout, the respondents in these surveys seem to acknowledge that allowing any of the Big Three automakers to go out of business would have serious repercussions for the larger economy. Nearly 90 percent of the Times/Bloomberg poll respondents said that it would be a problem; more than 60 percent said it would be a "major" one. In the CBS poll 55 percent of respondents predicted a "major impact" if the companies aren't propped up.
The fallout from such an event would presumably only hurt Americans' opinion of the economy, which, according to other polling [PDF] out by CBS this week, has hit a record low. A whopping 91 percent of respondents -- the most this survey has recorded -- said the economy is in bad shape. So, Americans don't want a bailout but think a Big Three bankruptcy will make the economy even worse than it already is. It appears that Americans want to have their car and drive it, too.