Growing Number of Americans Believe Enron Executives Acted Illegally

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most believe that government officials did not act illegally

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans have become increasingly likely to believe that Enron executives engaged in illegal activities. In just two weeks, the percentage of Americans who believe that Enron officials acted illegally has grown from 42% to 65%. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans think that politicians of both parties have acted within the law in relation to Enron. In addition, many Americans express doubt as to whether American corporations in general act in a way that looks out for the interests of their employees and, to a lesser extent, their stockholders.

Public Sharply Critical of Enron Executives' Actions

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Jan. 25-27, shows that as the scandal has unfolded, most Americans have concluded that Enron executives committed illegal acts. When Gallup first asked the public to characterize the actions of Enron officials earlier this month, 42% said they had done something illegal, 29% believed they had done something unethical but not illegal, 6% said they had done nothing seriously wrong, and 23% did not have an opinion on the matter. Now, a majority, 65%, believes the Enron executives acted illegally, and fewer believe that they only did something unethical or did nothing wrong at all.

Enron Executives

Americans also hold skeptical views about the campaign contributions Enron officials made to George W. Bush and to some Democrats in Congress. Roughly eight in 10 believe that Enron officials expected special treatment on policy matters from both President Bush (77%) and congressional Democrats (83%) in return for these contributions.

Politicians Not Affected So Far

The public has not been nearly as critical in its assessment of politicians' actions in the Enron situation, many of whom received significant campaign contributions from the energy company. The poll shows that just 15% of Americans believe that members of the Bush administration did something illegal. Nearly twice that many, 28%, feel that administration officials did not do anything wrong, which is about the same percentage (32%) who say they did something unethical but not illegal. A rather substantial 25% say they have no opinion on the matter yet.

In the two weeks since the question was first asked, the public's views about the Bush administration's activities have changed very little, in stark contrast to Americans' opinions about the actions of Enron officials.

Members of Bush Administration

The public's views of the actions of congressional Democrats in the Enron matter are very similar to those found for the Bush administration. Sixteen percent feel that some congressional Democrats did something illegal in the Enron situation, 35% say they did something unethical, and 18% say they did nothing wrong. About one-third of Americans have no opinion about the Democrats' actions.

Additionally, a majority of Americans (59%) believe that Bush felt he would not owe the Enron executives any special treatment on policy issues when he accepted their campaign contributions, while 29% say that he would have felt an obligation. These positive evaluations of Bush are probably due in part to the overall positive views the public holds of the president, exemplified by his current 84% job approval rating. By comparison, many more Americans, 55%, say they believe that the Democrats in Congress who accepted contributions from Enron executives felt they would owe the company special treatment on policy matters, while 33% said they would not.

Opinions About Corporations in General

Much speculation exists about how far Americans feel they can trust big business in the wake of the collapse of Enron. Several recent news stories have detailed the plight of former Enron employees, many of whom had large portions of their savings invested in now nearly worthless Enron stock. A recent Gallup review of Americans' attitudes toward corporations (see "Related Items" below) shows that the public has historically held lukewarm feelings toward big business.

The latest poll asked Americans specifically about their views of how much corporations can be trusted to look out for the interests of their employees. Fifty-one percent say corporations can be trusted "a great deal" or "a fair amount," while 48% say corporations can be trusted "only a little" or "not at all." The public is more likely to say that corporations can be trusted to look out for the interests of their stockholders -- 64% say they can be trusted a great deal or a fair amount in this regard.

Do You Trust Corporations to Look Out for Their Employees? for Their Stockholders?
Jan. 25-27, '02

At the same time, it appears that employed Americans are slightly more likely today to believe their own company will keep its promises to them, when compared to two earlier CNN/Time polls.

Employees: How Much Do You Trust Your Company to Keep Its Promises to You?

Additionally, some Enron executives have been criticized for selling large portions of their company stock while employee stock owners were prohibited from doing so. This raises questions about whose interests executives of large companies like Enron are trying to serve. When asked about the motivations of top executives at American corporations, the public is largely divided, with 52% saying such executives mainly try to do a good job for the company and 43% saying the executives are really looking out only for themselves.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,011 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Jan. 25-27, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Now turning to something else,

Which of the following statements best describes your view of the actions of executives of the Enron energy corporation -- [ROTATED: they did something illegal, they did something unethical but nothing illegal, or they did not do anything seriously wrong]?

 

 


Something
illegal

Something unethical but
not illegal

Did not do anything seriously wrong


No
opinion

         

2002 Jan 25-27

65%

17

2

16

         

2002 Jan 11-14

42%

29

6

23



Which of the following statements best describes your view of members of the Bush administration's involvement with the Enron corporation -- [ROTATED: they did something illegal, they did something unethical but nothing illegal, or they did not do anything seriously wrong]?

BASED ON -- 493 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Something
illegal

Something unethical but
not illegal

Did not do anything seriously wrong


No
opinion

         

2002 Jan 25-27

15%

32

28

25

         

2002 Jan 11-14

10%

36

28

26



Which of the following statements best describes your view of the Democrats in Congress involvement with the Enron corporation -- [ROTATED: they did something illegal, they did something unethical but nothing illegal, or they did not do anything seriously wrong]?

BASED ON -- 518 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

 


Something
illegal

Something unethical but
not illegal

Did not do anything seriously wrong


No
opinion

         

2002 Jan 25-27

16%

35

18

31



As you may know, Enron executives have made major donations to George W. Bush's presidential election campaign. Do you think Enron executives felt they would -- or would not -- get special treatment on policy issues in return for making these contributions?

BASED ON -- 493 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Would

Would not

No opinion

       

2002 Jan 25-27

77%

15

8



Do you think Bush felt he would -- or would not -- owe Enron executives any special treatment on policy issues by accepting these contributions?

BASED ON -- 493 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Would

Would not

No opinion

       

2002 Jan 25-27

29%

59

12



As you may know, Enron executives have made major donations to election campaigns for some Democrats in Congress. Do you think Enron executives felt they would -- or would not -- get special treatment on policy issues in return for making these contributions?

BASED ON -- 518 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Would

Would not

No opinion

       

2002 Jan 25-27

83%

8

9



Do you think these Democrats in Congress felt they would -- or would not -- owe Enron executives any special treatment on policy issues by accepting these contributions?

BASED ON -- 518 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Would

Would not

No opinion

       

2002 Jan 25-27

55%

33

12



In general, how much do you think American corporations can be trusted to look out for the interests of their employees -- a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all?

 

 

A great
deal

A fair amount

Only a
little


Not at all

No
opinion

           

2002 Jan 25-27

10%

41

35

13

1



In general, how much do you think American corporations can be trusted to look out for the interests of their stockholders -- a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all?

 

 

A great
deal

A fair amount

Only a
little


Not at all

No
opinion

           

2002 Jan 25-27

18%

46

25

9

2



Do you think most top executives at American corporations are -- [ROTATED: only interested in looking out for themselves, even if it harms the corporation they work for, (or are they) interested in doing a good job for the corporation]?

 

 

Looking out
for themselves

Doing a good job
for the corporation

No
opinion

       

2002 Jan 25-27

43%

52

5



How much do you personally trust your company to keep its promises to you and other employees -- a lot, only somewhat, or not at all?

BASED ON -- 648 -- ADULTS EMPLOYED FULL- OR PART-TIME; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

A lot

Only somewhat

Not at all

No opinion

         

2002 Jan 25-27

50%

39

8

3

         

1997 Jan 8-9 ^

45%

37

14

4

1989 Aug 28-29 ^

43%

48

8

1

         

^

CNN/Time poll.



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