Economy

Most Disapprove of Majority Government Ownership of GM

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Close to half say they would be less likely to buy a car from a bankrupt automaker

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll, conducted June 9-10, finds 55% of Americans saying they disapprove of the government's investing $50 billion in General Motors to make the government the majority owner of that automaker.

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Americans are remarkably well-informed about the financial status of the Big Three U.S. automakers -- 80% correctly identify General Motors as having declared bankruptcy and 74% also know Chrysler has done the same. Additionally, 85% of Americans correctly say that the third major U.S. automaker, Ford, has not declared bankruptcy.

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Since the Big Three's woes became widely known late last year, Americans have generally not been supportive of the government bailing them out.

In the latest poll, opposition to the government's GM rescue efforts is greatest with Republicans, among whom 78% disapprove. A majority of independents, 58%, also disapprove. In contrast, Democrats are nearly twice as likely to approve (62%) as to disapprove (34%).

Residents of the Midwest -- the traditional home of the U.S. auto industry -- show greater support for the government's action to aid GM than Americans residing in other parts of the country. But even among Midwest residents, more disapprove than approve of the government's actions in this matter.

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How Might Bankruptcy Affect Auto Sales?

It is well-documented that U.S. auto sales have slowed dramatically in the past year, and it's not clear when or if auto sales will pick up. The new Gallup Poll finds Americans are, for the most part, not currently shopping for new cars. Only 20% say they are "extremely," "very," or "somewhat likely" to "buy a new car from a dealer within the next 12 months," including just 7% who are extremely or very likely to do so.

Generally speaking, Americans are somewhat reluctant to buy a new car from a bankrupt automaker -- 49% say the fact that a car company has declared bankruptcy makes them less likely to buy a car from that manufacturer. Most of the rest, 44%, say it makes no difference to their decision, while 4% say they would be more likely to buy from a bankrupt automaker.

These attitudes are essentially the same among the one in five Americans who are at least somewhat likely to buy a car in the next 12 months.

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Implications

The Bush and Obama administrations decided that General Motors and Chrysler were too big to fail and have, in recent months, invested large sums of public money in helping these carmakers stay alive.

Thus far, the American public does not endorse the government's efforts to save GM, and close to half of Americans claim to be less likely to consider buying a car from a bankrupt automaker.

There may be some comfort for GM and Chrysler in the finding that about half of potential car buyers would be no less likely to buy cars from a bankrupt automaker. But given a rather limited car buyer pool, any factor that might discourage a potential buyer from purchasing their vehicles could potentially make recovery for GM and Chrysler even more difficult.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 9-10, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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