Public Opposes Auto Bailout
The public opposes bailing out the Big 3 automakers by a wide margin because they believe the companies are responsible for their own failure and doubt that their going bankrupt will hurt the economy, a new WaPo-ABC poll finds.
Overall, 55 percent of those polled oppose the latest plan that Chrysler, Ford and General Motors executives pitched to Congress last week, on par with public opposition to earlier, pricier efforts. But with 42 percent support, the new request for up to $14 billion in emergency loans has more backers than previous proposals to secure up to $34 billion in loan guarantees. But as with the earlier bids, those who strongly oppose the measure greatly outnumber those who are strongly supportive.
Opposition to the automaker bailout is fueled by the widespread perception that the companies themselves are responsible for their predicament, not the faltering economy. In the new poll, three-quarters of Americans said Detroit’s woes are mainly the fault of its own management decisions, and a sizable majority of those who blame the front office object to government help.
Nor have Detroit’s Big Three made significant progress persuading the public that bankruptcy proceedings would deepen the broader economic slowdown. Sixty percent said it would make no difference or would be good for the economy if one or more of the companies were forced to restructure under the protection of bankruptcy laws.
This is an example of public opinion polling at its most useless. What the public has here is attitudes, not opinions. The world’s best economists can only make educated guesses as to how a bailout — or the lack of one — will impact the economy; the general public — myself included — haven’t the foggiest clue.
Now, I happen to think the bailout is a bad idea. Then again, I thought all the bailouts were a bad idea. Whether I was right is unknowable. They clearly didn’t “work,” if the object was to stop the freefall of the stock market, boost consumer confidence, and get credit flowing again. But it’s entirely possible that things would be calamitously worse had we done, as I counseled, nothing.
The bottom line is that we’re making this up as we go along. The House approved the bailout and a majority in the Senate purportedly favored it but a strong minority stopped it using procedural rules. It looks like President Bush will circumvent that result by use of the giant slush fund created to bail out the financial sector. I’ve got a strong guess that Chrysler and GM will fail, anyway, but nobody really knows.