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Attitude Check

The government’s role in foreclosures

Frank Newport Feb 1, 2012

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.

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