Subdued Public Reaction to Corporate Reform Proposals, Bush's Dealings with Harken

by Lydia Saad

Few implicate Bush over financial dealings at Harken

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ – Neither President George W. Bush's speech outlining his plan to attack corporate scandal, nor the allegation that Bush himself may have benefited from questionable financial dealings while serving as a director of a Texas oil company over ten years ago, has so far generated much interest from the American public. A Gallup survey conducted in the first three days after Bush's business reform speech to Wall Street finds Americans relatively indifferent to both of these news stories. Also, when asked about the seriousness of possible corporate wrongdoing by Bush in the past, most Americans either say they believe he did nothing seriously wrong or have no opinion on the matter. Bush's overall job rating remains strong: 73% of Americans approve of his performance in office.

Americans' reaction to the specific reform proposals Bush outlined in his July 9 speech is mixed: a slight plurality (43%) believe these proposals will be effective at curbing corporate abuses, 39% say they will not be effective and 18% are unsure. Americans identifying themselves as Democrats are the most skeptical, but so are a sizeable number of Republicans -- a sign that the lack of enthusiasm for Bush's speech may be somewhat rooted in a belief that the problems he seeks to address are intractable.

Outlook for Bush's Corporate Reform Proposals

National Adults

Republicans

Democrats

%

%

%

Will be effective

43

62

29

Will not be effective

39

25

48

Unsure

18

13

23

Corruption Lags Behind Economy and Terrorism as Top Concerns

A key Gallup indicator of the national issues troubling the public is a question asking Americans to name what they think is the most important problem facing the country. Gallup's July 9-11 survey finds only 6% of Americans citing corporate scandal as the nation's biggest woe. Far more, 27%, name the economy (including unemployment and inflation), while even more, 41%, cite terrorism and issues related to national security.

Six percent is not a trivial number of top-of-mind mentions on this open-ended measure; it is comparable to concern about education, for example. But it does suggest that corporate corruption is in a much different category than the paramount concerns of terrorism and the economy more generally.

Reinforcing this finding, a question asking Americans how closely they have followed Bush's corporate reform proposals finds that the level of attention his speech has received is no higher than the average level of attention paid to a variety of different news events Gallup has tracked over the past decade.

  • About six in ten Americans tell Gallup they are paying close attention to the news on this subject, including 39% who are following it somewhat closely but only 19% who have followed it very closely.
  • Attention to news about Bush's involvement in alleged accounting irregularities and insider stock trading while he was a director at Harken Energy Corporation in Texas in the early 1990s has received even less attention. Just 38% of Americans are following that story closely, including just 12% "very closely."

Gallup trends on public attention to news stories dating back to 1990 suggest that public interest in the Bush's reform proposals is exactly average for a major news story, while attention to the news about possible wrongdoing by Bush at Harken is significantly below average. Looking at the more than 100 news stories rated since 1990, the average rating for paying very or somewhat close attention to a story is 58%, including 19% paying very close attention and 39% paying somewhat close attention.

Attention Paid to
Corporate Scandal News Stories
July 9-11, 2002

Bush Job Rating Holds Strong

Bush's current 73% job approval rating illustrates that any public concern about his dealings with the Texas energy corporation have thus far not had a significant impact on the public's overall assessment of the job he is doing. While his current approval rating is among the lowest levels of support for Bush since September 11, his ratings are down only slightly compared to Gallup's previous readings in late June and early July (73% today vs. 76% two and three weeks ago), and are comparable to where he stood in early June.

Bush has maintained a 70% or higher job approval rating for ten months, something accomplished by no president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963 and 1964.

George W. Bush's Job Approval Rating in 2002

Furthermore, when asked directly about the potential of wrongdoing by Bush at the Harken Energy Corporation, only 10% of Americans say that he did something illegal and another 29% believe he did something unethical. Six in ten either say he did nothing seriously wrong, or offer no opinion on the matter.

Bush's Activities at Harken Energy Corp.
July 9-11, 2002

It should be noted that the low level of attention being paid to the Harken controversy, as well as the relatively high 30% who have no opinion on the matter suggests that the president's past financial dealings with this company could become more of a political liability in the future.

More See Bush Wrongdoing Regarding Enron Than Harken

By way of comparison, the current ratings of Bush's involvement with Harken put that controversy well below Enron as a public scandal. Americans view Bush's potential wrongdoing as far less serious than what Enron executives did, and perhaps more telling in terms of how this will affect Bush, they view it as far less serious than the Bush administration's involvement with Enron.

Perceptions of Wrongdoing in Three Cases

Gallup has used this illegal-unethical-nothing wrong question formulation to measure public reaction to a number of presidential controversies in recent years and a comparison of the results finds the Bush-Harken controversy of less concern than almost all of them. This includes controversies surrounding Bill Clinton's presidential pardons in January 2002 (for which 75% believed he did something illegal or unethical) Bill Clinton and Whitewater (Gallup's first measure of that controversy found 61% saying he did something illegal or unethical), Hillary Clinton and Whitewater (56%), Bill Clinton and Chinese missile technology (58%), Bill Clinton's 1996 fundraising activities (63%), and Al Gore's 1996 fundraising activities (55%). Only the initial readings on Gore and Bush's 2000 election fundraising activities yielded as low or lower levels believing they did something wrong.

Perception of Wrongdoing in Recent Political Controversies

 

% Illegal/Unethical

Enron executives (Feb 2002)

91

Clinton Pardons (Jan 2002)

75

Bill Clinton fundraising (Mar 1997)

63

Bill Clinton and Whitewater (mar 1994)

61

Bush administration re: Enron (Feb 2002)

58

Clinton and Chinese missile technology

58

Hillary Clinton and Whitewater

56

Al Gore fundraising (Mar 1997)

55

Bush at Harken (July 2002)

39

Al Gore fundraising (Apr 2000)

39

George W. Bush fundraising (Apr 2000)

24

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, 18 years and older, conducted July 9-11, 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.

How closely have you followed the news about George W. Bush's proposals to deal with corporate accounting scandals -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

BASED ON --508-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely


Not at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Jul 9-11

19

39

24

17

1



Overall, do you think Bush's proposals will -- or will not -- be effective in helping to prevent corporate accounting scandals in the future?

BASED ON --508-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Yes, will be

No, will not be

No opinion

%

%

%

2002 Jul 9-11

43

39

18



How closely have you followed the news about George W. Bush's involvement in alleged accounting irregularities and insider stock trading while he was a director at Harken Energy Corporation in Texas in the early 1990s -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

BASED ON --496-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely


Not at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Jul 9-11

12

26

26

35

1



From what you have heard or read about Bush's activities at Harken Energy Corporation, which of the following statements best describes your view of his actions in this matter [ROTATED: he did something illegal, he did something unethical but nothing illegal, or he did not do anything seriously wrong]?

BASED ON --496-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 


Something
illegal

Something unethical but
not illegal

Did not do anything seriously wrong


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Jul 9-11

10

29

31

30



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 Feb 8-10

65

26

2

7

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]?

 


Something
illegal

Something unethical but
not illegal

Did not do anything seriously wrong


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Feb 8-10

15

43

28

14

2002 Jan 25-27 ^

15

32

28

25

2002 Jan 11-14

10

36

28

26

^

Asked of half sample.



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