A majority opposes the idea of the federal government providing financial compensation to Enron employees who lost their retirement savings when the company collapsed late last year.
In the latest FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll, the public says "no" to a government bailout of the employees' retirement funds by a 57 percent to 29 percent margin. This lack of sympathy could be because few seem to be immediately affected by the bankruptcy — only seven percent say they or a family member lost money due to Enron's collapse. Also, two-thirds believe their own personal retirement savings are "very" or "somewhat" secure.
More Americans describe the Enron collapse as a criminal scandal (39 percent) as opposed to a business scandal (21 percent) or a political scandal (6 percent), and about one-quarter think the scandal includes a combination of these elements. A majority is aware that Enron made campaign donations to both political parties; even so, 19 percent think the media coverage portrays Enron as a Republican scandal. Forty-six percent think the media coverage treats Enron as a business scandal and 16 percent say as a political scandal involving both parties.
Americans are skeptical that the current situation will bring about campaign finance reform. Almost half think it is unlikely that Congress will pass a reform bill, but 35 percent think passage of a bill is likely this year.
So far the Enron fallout hasn't changed many minds about allowing private investment of Social Security contributions. Just under half believe people should have the option to invest privately a part of their Social Security contributions, while 42 percent believe the system should continue working as is. These numbers are only slightly less supportive of private investment than six months ago. It should come as no surprise that young people (under age 35) are among the most supportive of allowing the private investment option.
"While Enron doesn’t appear to have changed very many minds about private investment of Social Security, it will certainly have an impact on the details of any plan Congress actually considers," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "While many people say they want to invest, if Congress does pass something the question will be what degree of risk it actually allows. And you can bet, in the aftermath of the dot.coms and Enron, it will be less risky than any plan that might have been proposed in 1999 or earlier."
If private investment of Social Security funds is allowed, fully 78 percent of Americans believe individuals must assume responsibility for their losses on a bad investment, while 15 percent think the government should make up the losses.
Polling was conducted by telephone January 30-31, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.
1. I'm going to read the names of some people and organizations. Please tell me whether you have a generally favorable or unfavorable opinion of each one. If you've never heard of someone, please just say so.
SCALE: 1. Favorable 2. Unfavorable 3. (Can't say) 4. (Never heard of)
The Enron Corporation
The next few questions are about Enron, the energy company that recently went bankrupt and had thousands of employees lose their retirement savings.
2. Did you or a family member lose any money because of the Enron collapse?
3. Do you think the federal government should help compensate Enron employees who lost their retirement savings because they were invested in Enron stock?
4. Do you think the collapse of Enron is best described as:
5. From what you know about the Enron situation, did the company make campaign donations only to Republicans, only to Democrats, or to both political parties?
6. Which of the following best describes the way the press is treating the Enron scandal?
7. How likely do you think it is that Congress will pass a campaign finance reform bill this year?
8. How secure do you think your retirement savings are?
9. With regard to Social Security, do you believe it should continue working as it currently does, or do you think people should have the option to invest a small part of their social security contributions in government-approved stock market funds?
SCALE: 1. Continue working as now 2. Option to invest privately 3. (Not sure)
* wording: With regard to Social Security, do you believe it should continue working as it currently does, or do you think people should have the option to invest their social security contributions themselves?
10. If people are allowed to invest their Social Security privately and they invest in a company like Enron, do you think the government should be responsible for making up their losses or should individuals have to bear the risk of making a bad investment?