Sixty-three percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey support the roughly $13 billion loan package the White House is extending to American automakers to prevent them from going into bankruptcy, with 37 percent opposing the move.
In exchange for the loans, the deal calls for the auto companies to come up with plans by the end of March that show how they would change their business models to become viable in the future.
But if the auto companies should ask for more taxpayer assistance, the poll indicates that public opinion changes dramatically. Only 28 percent would approve of providing the automakers more money, with 70 percent saying let them go bankrupt.
"One reason for that: only 15 percent say that the country would face a crisis if the automakers went bankrupt, and half say that would not cause any problems for them personally at all . But most say that the country would face major problems if the auto companies were in bankruptcy," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Holland says the opposition to any additional assistance may be a reluctance to spend more money that they think the government may never see again. Only 28 percent, he adds, say the auto companies involved in the current program will be able to pay all or most of the $13 billion back; one in five say they will not be able to pay any of it back to the government.
"This perceived lack of ability to pay taxpayers back may be one reason why the poll indicates auto executives are not very popular with Americans. Eighty-two percent of those questioned have a negative view of auto executives," says Holland.
Union leaders don't fare so well either: Sixty-one percent of those polled have a negative view of labor leadership.
If the big automakers fall into bankruptcy, Americans may be less willing to buy from them. Two-thirds of those polled say they would be less likely to buy a car from an auto company in bankruptcy.
The CNN/Opinion Research poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, with 1,013 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.