Wall St. Problems Viewed as 'Crisis' in Latest Poll

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 30, 2008; 10:10 AM

Most Americans see the current financial situation as a "crisis," and there is overwhelming concern that the failure of the House of Representatives to pass the economic recovery package will deepen the problem, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But the poll also revealed significant public concern with the bill Congress rejected yesterday, as few voters said the package did enough to protect "ordinary Americans," and nearly half said it did not go far enough to shore up the nation's economy.

Nevertheless, nearly nine in 10 expressed concern that the failure of the bill could lead to a more severe economic decline, including a slim majority calling themselves "very worried." High levels of concern cross party lines, but Democrats and Republicans have contrasting views of the urgency of the situation. In the poll, 60 percent of Democrats call the economic woes a crisis, compared with 44 percent of Republicans.

Overall, voters split about evenly on the failed bill -- 45 percent supported it, 47 percent opposed it. Among the reasons for the tepid public reception is that there is a roughly even divide about whether government efforts will prevent the financial situation from deteriorating further still.

And on the particulars, about as many voters said the plan rejected by Congress did "too much" to help major financial institutions that got into trouble as said that the bill did "too little." Nearly half said the failed plan did not do enough to help the broader economy, and more, 61 percent said there was insufficient assistance for the general public.

That the bill did not go far enough to aid the public is a view shared by Democrats (69 percent), independents (59 percent) and Republicans (50 percent) alike.

Asked to assess responsibility for the legislation's failure, 44 percent said Republicans were the reason, 21 percent said the Democrats and 17 percent said both sides were responsible.

On the broader economic problems facing the country, voters spread the blame.

In an open-ended question, a quarter of all voters said George W. Bush is responsible for the economy's relatively poor performance, more than any other single cause. About a quarter name Congress (8 percent), the federal government (8 percent) and Democrats and Republicans (5 percent each) together. Eighteen percent said Wall Street financial institutions and banks shoulder responsibility, 7 percent blame "everyone" and 5 percent highlighted the role of individuals who borrowed too much.

Partisan filters dominate on this question: Nearly half of all Democrats blame Bush; that is just 4 percent among Republicans. Moreover, no Democrats blamed "Democrats" generally; no Republicans singled out "Republicans."

Despite the negative assessment of the current financial situation, four in 10 remain optimistic about the state of the national economy over the next year and six in 10 are bullish about their family's financial situation. But pessimism about personal finances has climbed over the past two years and now stands at more than double its level in December 2006.

The poll was conducted by telephone yesterday among a random sample of 520 adults and 424 registered voters. The margin of sampling error among registered voters is plus or minus five percentage points.

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