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The government's role in foreclosures

Should the government intervene to fix the foreclosure mess? Gallup reveals the results of its latest poll. Here, foreclosure signs sit on the porch of a foreclosed home on April 6, 2011 in Oakland, Calif.

Kai Ryssdal: So those are the details on President Obama's plan for foreclosures and some expert analysis. But what do actual people think? Can the government fix the foreclosure crisis? Do Americans even think the government should be messing in the foreclosure crisis?

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup, he's with us every week for Attitude Check, our look at what Americans really think. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So as we just heard, the president is going to spend $10 billion -- wants to spend $10 billion -- to fix the lasting foreclosure mess in this country. You guys have asked around about how people feel about the government trying to fix foreclosures. What do we know?

Newport: Well, the majority would favor doing exactly what he's doing -- 58 percent, in fact, say yes, the government should get involved, should try to stop the rise in home foreclosures this year; 34 percent say what Romney said before -- but I think he's quit saying it now -- and that is to let the market work its will. So all in all, you put it together, you would get approval for what the White House is doing.

Ryssdal: That's actually kind of interesting, because you and I have spoken before about how people distrust big government -- by a lot -- in this country.

Newport: Absolutely, and that's kind of the fundamental paradox we see in American politics today. Americans distrust the government -- and yet, when you just say 'there's a bad problem with foreclosures, should the government try to fix it by itself?', Americans say sure, at least a majority say sure they should. I should note, Kai: Republicans don't think the government should do it, but they're swathed by Independents and Democrats who say the government should.

Ryssdal: Right, that was my next question, so I'll skip down on the list a little bit and ask you if there's a difference when you break it down not by political leaning, but by economic leaning. Does it matter whether people are low-, middle- or upper-income in how they answer that question?

Newport: The richer you are, and the higher your level of education, the less likely you are to think that the government should be involved. That's another paradox because at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, we actually have more Democrats in today's American society. And yet people with the highest incomes in our Gallup poll and also the people that have college educations are the least likely to say that the government should get involved in trying to fix the foreclosure mess.

Ryssdal: Let me back you up for a minute: At the upper end of the income strata, we have more Democrats in America today?

Newport: Oh yes. Those are the Hollywood elite, we call it somewhat facetiously. Yeah, you're right. In general, lower socioeconomic status people gravitate to the Democratic Party, but if you have a post-graduate degree in American society today, those people are significantly more likely to be Democratic in political orientation.

Ryssdal: Interesting. One more question for you Frank, and this is a little bit sideways, just on the topic of people believing in the housing market. Obviously, a lot of news this week about the Case-Shiller Index yesterday and all that stuff, and the president today. How do Americans feel about whether their house will eventually regain its value?

Newport: Fifty-seven percent of homeowners say they are worried about the fact that their house will not increase in value and regain its value, and we looked at that on a relative basis with a bunch of other worries. The number one thing people are worried about in this country is the economy in general. But that for homeowners at any rate, that worry about their house is much higher than their worry about getting laid off; it's much higher than their worry about losing health care coverage; and it's about the same as their worry about not having enough money to retire. So it is a really significant issue out there in the American public -- at least the 66 percent who own houses.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. The segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Find more Gallup data here. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: You bet.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.
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Most post-graduate degrees are primarily being utilized by government workers...yes, if your a Nurse or Doctor working in a hospital, your pay is by and large government subsidized...such as teachers and professors so, the most being Democrats or liberal is not far off. However, what about the majority with just a bachelor's who don't work for the government...if your company mostly does government contracts, as above, your a government worker with basically no benefits thereof. I would say the government's role in foreclosures right now is keeping their workers out of it at the peril of those who are. It'd be better long-term for masssive government layofs to happen now, driving the price of everything down with it, than to continue propping up "losers."

Anyone who uses a phrase like "Hollywood Elite" not only loses me but also shows their bias.

If you are going to rule based on what people think then we are screwed. Just before Bush went for Iraq war more than 70% of people supported him. When Obama promised hope and change people jumped on the bandwagon and elected him. Most people cannot think for themselves. As long as they get cheap beef, beer and weekend football they are happy.

I've heard this Gallup poll about Big Government versus Big Corporations referenced many times on the show. Maybe it's a fair question to ask the American public, but I think it also lacks a lot of depth. Which establishment can directly affect your life? A Corporation trying to sell you something, or the Government which enacts laws and regulations that can affect the way you live?

Wouldn't the typical American, without putting much thought into it, say Big Government?

I listened to this interview with interest. The problem with this story was it presented us with generalities. Many people would like to see government intervention in the foreclosure mess, but the devil is in the details. The people want help, but not the help that has been offered (yet). Let me give an example. The new Obama plan is to help people with bad mortgages get better interest rate loans if their loan payments are current. Here's the problem: Lenders don't bother to work with people who are able to keep their payments current. In order to just get a lender's attention, to begin to bring them to the negotiation table, you need to be 60 to 90 days behind in your mortgage. One is reminded of the joke about donkey trainers and two by fours, but I digress. So to summarize: 1) YES, I would like government help in alleviating the foreclosure crisis, but 2) NO, not the ways that have been invented so far.

Mr. Newport today said "at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, we actually have more Democrats in today's American society." It was enough to draw an incredulous question from Kai Ryssdal. But Mr. Newport obfuscated, and even disparaged supposedly wealth Democrats.

According to NPR, the Gallup Report that Mr. Newport was referencing found: "about 33 percent of the top 1 percent say they are Republican. 28 percent of the bottom 99 percent are Republican." To me that says that the percentage of Republicans is higher among the one percent than it is with the rest of us. This is very different statement than Mr. Newport's comment about more Democrats.

Are we to believe that there are both more Democrats *and* more Republicans (and presumably fewer folks who belong to neither party ) in the top 1%? Or is Mr. Newport trying to confuse us by using his own private definition of the "upper end of the economic scale?

More clarity would be welcome.

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