TARP, the Auto Bailout, and the Stimulus
Attitudes about the Economic Crisis

The full text of this study is available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

  • While initially supportive of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), public opinion turned against it very quickly and, in almost all polls, the public opposed a second TARP. In February 2009, a CNN/ORC poll showed that 62 percent thought that second half of the TARP money should be not be released to banks and other financial institutions.

  • The degree of public resistance to TARP is interesting because the public clearly saw the situation in the fall of 2008 was very serious. In September 2008, 52 percent thought the current financial situation was a crisis. (ABC News/Washington Post)

  • In most polls, solid majorities opposed aid to the auto companies. A December 2008 Gallup poll showed that 51 percent were opposed, while 43 percent were in favor of financial assistance to the big three automakers.

  • Americans initially supported the stimulus, but once again, opinion turned against it very quickly. In February 2009, CNN/Opinion Research poll showed a majority of 60 percent favored the economic stimulus bill. In January 2010, a minority of 42 percent favored it.

  • For the government programs covered in this document, individuals did not believe the programs would make their economic situation better. 47 percent said in an October 2008 Fox/Opinion Dynamics question that the financial rescue package would make no difference on their family's financial situation, 16 percent said it would help their family's situation, and 28 percent said it would hurt. In February 2009, 54 percent said the stimulus bill would not make a difference in their financial situation, 24 percent said it would help their economic situation, and 19 percent said it would hurt.

  • Banks, large businesses, and the Bush administration receive much more blame for the crisis than President Obama. In a March 2009 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent said banks deserve a great of blame, 47 percent said the Bush administration, and 57 percent said large business corporations. Only 13 percent said Obama.

  • In most polls, people did not see taking over failing companies as the responsibility of the government. Majorities generally supported government intervention in the financial system.

  • Early on, President Obama's personal popularity aided many of the crisis programs. In questions where his name was attached to a program, support was usually stronger.

  • Most polls show that Americans thought the stimulus package was too large and wasted much of its money. In a January 2010 CNN/ORC poll, 21 percent said nearly all the money was wasted, 24 percent said most, 29 percent said about half, and 25 percent said little or none.

  • The cumulative impression from this AEI Public Opinion Study is that Americans' historic skepticism of government action in the economy reached new levels during the economic crisis as Congress passed new initiatives.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI. Andrew Rugg is a research assistant at AEI.

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