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Re: Not Buying It

Jennifer, this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found results contrary to the poll you reference. The pollers worded the bailout question as follows:

The American automobile manufacturers–General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-have asked Congress for financial aid and loans to keep the companies from failing and declaring bankruptcy. In exchange, the companies say they will change how they do business by cutting costs and focusing on producing fuel efficient vehicles. Would you approve or disapprove of the federal government providing financial aid and loans to the U.S. automakers? If you do not know enough about this to have an opinion, please just say so.

46% approved, 42% disapproved, and 6% had no opinion. So, which is it? Do Americans approve or disapprove of the bailout?

Mark Blumenthal looked at a bunch of these polls and found telling differences in the wording of the questions. The WSJ/NBC News poll, for example, is unique because it’s the only one that “specifies the changes that Congress will require the companies to make in exchange for the money.” Thus, it gives respondents more reason to support a bailout. Another poll (LA Times/Bloomberg), is “the only one to ask whether we should ‘rescue’ the automakers.  The others ask if we should provide money, loans or “assistance.” Blumenthal reaches this conclusion:

Depending on the question, opposition varies from 42% to 61%; support varies 28% to 57%. As is often the case, about a third of Americans appear to float between support and opposition depending on the way pollsters ask the question. They are more likely to oppose the bailout when the question emphasizes the “billions” of dollars involved. They are more likely to support it when the question gives greater emphasis to the imminence of the companies going into bankruptcy or “out of business” in the absence of the bailout.

A middle group of “floating Americans” is changing the outcomes of different polls, “demonstrating a willingness to either support or oppose the proposed bailout depending on how the question (or the larger debate) is framed.”

In all, the battle for public support is still an uphill one: “the fact that six of the nine pollsters show net opposition to the bailout — especially among those with more concise questions — suggests that the onus is on bailout proponents to make the case to the American public for passage.”


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