The view of the auto industry, then and now

U.S. Rep. former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk after participating in a debate sponsored by CNN in Mesa, Ariz. The auto industry bailout has become an issue in the Republican primary.

Adriene Hill: We'll start with last nights Republican debate -- and the auto industry bailout which didn't get much love.

Here's Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney: 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.

All four Republican candidates oppose the government's bailout of the auto industry, but we want to know what Americans think. Was writing the bailout check, worth it?

It's time for our weekly Attitude Check, our partnership with Gallup. Joining us today, as he does every Thursday, is Gallup's editor-in-chief, Frank Newport. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Hill: What do Americans think about the auto industry bailout?

Newport: Well, more disapprove than approve, and that's very interesting. This is a question we just asked as a matter of fact. We reminded Americans that it was four years ago; we talked about the financial bailout on the part of the federal government to keep the auto industry from failing -- we put that in the wording. Fifty one percent of Americans said they disapprove and 44 percent approve.

So even now, after the auto industry's recovered, Americans are a little more negative than positive, particularly so among Republicans -- huge partisan differences. Seventy-three percent of Republicans say they disapprove of it; 63 percent of Democrats on the other hand, they approve.

Hill: And how has the way Americans view the auto industry more broadly changed?

Newport: That's very good news for the auto industry. There was a time when the auto industry and our positive/negative image ratings was down at minus 35; that was in 2009. In fact, it was second only to the oil and gas industry, which interestingly -- perennially -- pulled up the bottom on that.

Now it has recovered. It was way in plus territory early in the last decade. It plummeted in 2009. Now it's back to plus ten, which isn't at the top of the list. By the way, the top of the list is the computer industry -- best image of any industry in America. But neither is it at the very bottom of the list, which by the way, now is the federal government, actually now below the oil and gas industry.

So when you say "auto industry," to the average American now, much more positive reaction than when you said that just a few years ago in 2009.

Hill: Very interesting. Gallup's Frank Newport, thanks.

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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