October 6, 2008

Economic Bailout: Public Remains Closely Divided Overall, but Partisan Support Shifts

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A special re-interview this weekend of voters who had first been polled a week ago finds that public reaction to the $700-billion economic bailout package signed into law last week is decidedly mixed, with a narrow plurality of 42% saying it was the right thing to do and 39% saying it was the wrong thing to do; 19% are unsure.

The overall division in public opinion was similar prior to the measure’s passage (45% right thing to do, 38% wrong thing in interviews conducted Sept. 27-29).

However, the relative stability in the overall numbers obscures considerable movement in public opinion about the package.

The latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press was conducted on landline phones and cell phones Oct. 3-5 among 820 adults, including 710 registered voters, who were previously interviewed.

The survey finds that many people changed their minds as the debate unfolded in Washington, with nearly four-in-ten (37%) holding a different opinion in the re-interview survey than they had expressed when interviewed a week ago.

In particular, Democrats and Republicans moved in opposite directions. In the Sept. 27-29 survey, members of both parties held similar views, with small pluralities favoring the plan (49% among Republicans, 46% among Democrats). Independents were almost evenly divided, with 42% saying the plan was the right thing to do and 40% saying it was the wrong approach.

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Now, Republicans are significantly more negative about the package; 45% now say it is the wrong thing to do, up from 38% a week ago. Independents have moved in the same direction and now oppose the plan by a margin of 47% to 36%. Meanwhile, 48% of Democrats now say the bailout is the right thing to do.

Echoing the divided public verdict on the bailout, 45% are pessimistic that the plan will keep financial markets secure; 42% say they are optimistic. A majority of independents (54%) say they are pessimistic about whether the bailout will work. Republicans (49% optimistic) and Democrats (47%) are more optimistic.

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Public judgments about how Congress has handled the situation are now more negative than they were in late September. A plurality of 39% says Congress was too hasty, up from just 22% who said this earlier. About a quarter (23%) thinks Congress took too much time debating, while 29% say lawmakers gave the issue about the right amount of consideration. Independents, in particular, are more likely to say Congress acted too fast: 46% now say this, up from 25% a week ago.

Topline questionnaire findings can be found at people-press.org.