More Public Disdain for Detroit’s Big 3

While the big three U.S. automakers may come away from Congress with a bailout, polls indicate that debate over such loans is focusing public scorn on the companies and their management.

In a CBS News poll conducted at the end of last week and the beginning of this week, 55 percent of respondents said it would have a “major impact” on the nation’s economy if one or more of the Detroit automakers went under. Even so, significantly fewer–45 percent–said they’d support federal loans to the companies “if it would help prevent them from going out of business or declaring bankruptcy.”

This reluctance to bail the companies out reflects a conviction that the Big Three have brought their difficulties on themselves: Asked whether the automakers’ problems are “mostly the result of the companies’ management strategies” or instead are “mostly the result of economic conditions outside the companies’ control,” 56 percent of respondents picked the first explanation, double the number choosing the second version.

That’s consistent with the findings of a Gallup poll, also fielded in recent days, that gave people a list of possible villains from which to choose in assessing “all the problems faced by the three major U.S. auto companies.” With multiple picks permitted, 65 percent of respondents assigned blame to “the executives who run the U.S. auto companies,” 34 percent to “the labor unions that represent many U.S. autoworkers,” 29 percent to “the current economic recession,” 17 percent to “government laws and regulations that affect the auto industry” and 15 percent to “American consumers who decide to buy foreign cars rather than American cars.”

Perhaps most ominous for the big three is that their financial travails have made potential customers wary. One part of the CBS News poll asked people whether, if they were in the market for a new car right now, the economic problems of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler would affect their inclination to buy a car from them. Thirty-one percent said this factor would make them “less likely” to buy a car from the big three, while a soft-hearted 11 percent said it would make them “more likely” to do so. (Most of the rest said it would make “no difference.)

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