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Public still opposes auto bailout, Gallup poll finds

While the U.S. auto industry may be “back,” as President Barack Obama recently declared during his State-of-the-Union address, that hasn’t changed the fact that a majority of Americans remain opposed to the 2008 – 2009 bailout of Detroit.

A new Gallup poll finds 51 percent of those surveyed still disapprove of the $85 billion rescue effort, with only 44 percent saying they approve.  And the figure is even more lopsided when party affiliation is consideredD.  The poll, conducted for the public radio program Marketplace, found 73 percent of Republicans opposed – though 63 percent of Democrats were supportive of the bailout.

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Though the results are still in negative territory, overall, that’s still a significant improvement from 2009, when various polls showed that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of political persuasion, were unhappy with the use of taxpayer money to save General Motors and Chrysler.

The numbers have been slowly moving back into positive territory, various surveys have found, especially as the two once-bankrupt makers have started posting solid earnings again – and have been adding thousands of new jobs.  On the other hand, reports that the U.S. Treasury could still lose perhaps $20 billion on the bailout – especially if GM’s stock price doesn’t rebound – continues to throw up a red flag.

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And the GOP presidential contenders all but trip over one another in debates and stump speeches, to turn the bailout into a liability for President Barack Obama.

During a Wednesday night Republican debate in Phoenix, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, “I think it was 2008, President Bush was still in office. And the three chief executive officers of the three major auto companies got in their private planes and flew to Washington, and said: please write us a check. I think they wanted $50 billion. And I wrote an op-ed in the paper and I said: absolutely not. Don’t write a check for $50 billion.”

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While the bailout is likely to remain a subject of contention for some time, the new Gallup poll isn’t entirely negative for the auto industry overall.

“There was a time when the auto industry and our positive/negative image ratings was down at minus 35; that was in 2009,” said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport. “In fact, it was second only to the oil and gas industry, which interestingly — perennially — pulled up the bottom on that.”

Now, he noted, the auto industry is back in positive territory, with a plus-10 rating.  That’s still well below the image of the computer industry but well ahead of oil and gas – and the federal government, which now ranks dead last.