WASHINGTON — Despite a massive government effort to shore up the nation's financial system, Americans are deeply pessimistic about whether it will work anytime soon, according to a new Ipsos/McClatchy poll.
An overwhelming majority thinks the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers and the sudden sale of brokerage firm Merrill Lynch will have a negative effect on jobs and the economy.
In this first close examination of popular sentiment on the question, Americans appear skeptical at best about the prospects that the government can fix the mess.
A solid majority said they're not confident that the government can restore confidence following the mortgage crisis. And only a sliver thinks the economy will be better six months from now. A plurality thinks it will be worse.
The findings come as the country works to come to grips with the financial turmoil of recent weeks. Rooted in the housing-finance crisis, it's led to rapid-fire government bailouts of several major financial institutions, the bankruptcy of another, Lehman Brothers, and the shotgun marriage of Merrill Lynch — a venerable firm known to millions on Main Streets coast to coast — to Bank of America.
These events are accelerating the country's fast-shifting politics just six weeks before the presidential election, as voters weigh how much they want to strengthen regulation after decades of faith in unbridled free markets and hostility to government intervention.
Nine out of 10 adults said they think the failure of Lehman Brothers and sale of Merrill Lynch will hurt jobs and the economy.
The pessimism was felt across the country and in every demographic. Those with college degrees were considerably more worried than those without them. Among those with degrees, 97 percent said the developments on Wall Street would be bad for the economy, while 3 percent said they'd have a positive effect.
Among those without college degrees, 88 percent thought the developments would have a bad effect, and 12 percent thought they'd help turn things around.
Looked at another way, 40 percent of Americans said they are confident the government can restore consumer and investor confidence following the mortgage crisis. A solid 60 percent said they didn't have confidence in the government.
Men are slightly more optimistic than women, and women are slightly more pessimistic.
Young people age 18 to 34 are more hopeful than those age 35 to 44, but about on a par with those 55 and older.
Those in the Midwest are the most optimistic — though even the majority there is skeptical. The pessimistic region: the Northeast, closest to Wall Street and its loss of jobs and bonuses.
Looking forward, a plurality of 45 percent think the economy will be worse off six months from now.
Fewer than two in five — 36 percent — think the economy will be about the same.
Fewer than one in five — 18 percent — think the economy will be better off six months from now.
Among the more optimistic: men, those making more than $50,000 a year and those with college degrees.
Looked at another way, one in four — 24 percent — think the worst of the mortgage crisis is over. Three in four — 76 percent — think it will get worse.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos online poll conducted September 16-17, 2008. For this survey, a national sample of 647 adults aged 18 or older from Ipsos' U.S. online panel, are interviewed online. Weighting is then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results that are intended to approximate the sample universe.
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