TPoll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats
Poll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats
RICHARD L. BERKE and JANET ELDER . NY Times . 27 january 2002
Americans perceive Republicans as far more entangled in the Enron (news/quote) debacle than Democrats, and their suspicions are growing that the Bush administration is hiding something or lying about its own dealings with the Enron Corporation before the company filed for bankruptcy protection, the latest New York Times/ CBS News Poll shows.
Even among Republicans, a majority said they believed that the administration had not been forthcoming about its dealings with Enron. That perception could pose a threat to Republican candidates in the midterm elections this year, and undermine the White House drive to portray the Enron collapse as affecting Republicans and Democrats equally.
In a demonstration of how the public's concerns have shifted in recent weeks, the economy has now supplanted battling terrorism albeit by a slight margin as the issue people want their elected officials to make a top priority. They fear that the budget deficit is too much of a burden for the nation, and 6 in 10 favor postponing the Bush tax cut rather than incurring a deficit.
President Bush's impressive approval rating of 82 percent has not diminished since the terrorist attacks. As Mr. Bush prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, neither party is seen as having an edge on keeping the country prosperous, improving education, balancing the federal budget or making the proper decisions about how to spend taxpayers' money.
Still, while Mr. Bush on Tuesday hopes to galvanize the public behind his economic prescriptions and his stewardship of the war, it is unmistakable from the survey that he must also contend with the twin political predicaments posed by Enron and the economy.
The White House has sought to portray the collapse of Enron as affecting business but not having political ramifications because the company was generous to Democrats as well as Republicans. But this poll shows, for the first time, that Americans associate Enron much more closely with Republicans.
In fact, Republican Congressional candidates begin this midterm election year with the albatross of being considered far more tied to Enron than their Democratic rivals. The poll's respondents were nearly five times as likely to say Enron executives had closer ties to Republicans than to Democrats.
Republicans were nearly twice as likely to say their own party's ties were closer to Enron than the Democratic Party's ties.
The nationwide telephone survey of 1,034 adults was taken Monday through Thursday. Most of the interviews were conducted before the Congressional hearings into Enron began on Thursday. About half of the respondents had been interviewed when Mr. Bush, in a sharp change in tone, expressed his outrage over Enron's conduct. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
In the last week alone, the portion of people who say they are paying attention to the Enron collapse has risen to three-fourths from two- thirds and more people view it as a Republican problem. While a majority of Americans say the Bush administration is either hiding something or lying about Enron, people who have been paying very close attention to the corporation's unfolding collapse were even more likely to hold those views.
"In terms of campaign financing, Enron had closer ties to the Republicans," Charles Sarver, 29, a Republican who is a collections company manager in Lexington, Ky., said in a follow-up interview. "I don't feel, as far as we know now, that any political favors were given out."
But Mr. Sarver added: "There's always a chance in influencing which way a tax bill might go, for instance. It's, `Look, I'm going to make sure I take care of you, when it gets time for this bill, and you take care of me.' "
Roy Marshall, 58, an air-conditioning sales representative in Albany who is an independent, said: "I think the Bush administration knows more than they're telling, but I think all politicians do that. Are they lying flat out? I don't think so."
Americans said that big business wielded too much influence, not just with the Bush White House but also with members of Congress of both parties.
The accounting and other practices that contributed to Enron's fall were seen by respondents as not surprising in the business world. Seven in 10 said such practices were widespread in other large corporations; only 1 in 10 said Enron was an isolated case.
Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, said bluntly in a speech last week that Republicans' performance on the war and fighting terrorism could be a winning issue in the fall election. Indeed, the poll found that the Republicans' strength is perceived to be the party's ability to protect the nation by keeping the military strong and by making the right decisions about fighting terrorists.
Perhaps because of his high profile on the war, Mr. Bush is now seen as fully in charge of what goes on in his administration. More than half the respondents said Mr. Bush was in charge, while 4 in 10 said others were running the government most of the time. Last March, shortly after Mr. Bush took office, the figures were reversed.
Most Americans said they would judge the success of the war in Afghanistan by whether Mr. Bush made good on his vow to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. More than 6 in 10 say the United States will not have won the war unless Mr. bin Laden is captured or killed. Even so, a majority of Americans continue to say that the war is proceeding well. They also registered support for expanding the war to other countries where terrorists may be hiding, like Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines even if those countries refuse to assist.
While Republicans are given high ratings on maintaining a strong military and fighting terrorism, Democrats are viewed as more likely to make sure the tax system is fair, protect the environment, improve the health care system and make the best decisions about Social Security.
Democrats may be heartened that people still favor many of the domestic proposals that were on the front burner before Sept. 11. Americans support fundamental changes in the health care system. A majority say that reducing the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly matters significantly to them personally. More than half the respondents say that protecting the environment is so vital that requirements and standards cannot be too high and improvements must be made no matter the cost.
Women were more concerned about these matters than men, especially on health care and prescription drugs.
Reflecting the steadfast support for Mr. Bush on the war but holding reservations about him on other issues, David Olson, 34, a security consultant from Portland, Ore., an independent, said: "Certainly our battle with terrorism continues to be significant. And I support Bush in the way he is handling that. I'm not in full agreement with his tax plans and his handling of the economy. The budget deficit needs to be dealt with as one of the top priorities for the government."
Ted Detwiler, 71, a retired awning salesman in Hamilton, Mont., emphasized his worries about health care. "Everybody was waving the flag for the first month or two," said Mr. Detwiler, a Democrat. "But if you don't have insurance and can't get to the doctor, the war is pretty far away."
Beyond Enron, a looming problem for Mr. Bush is that Americans still say his signature legislation, the tax cut, will not make much difference to the economy and is not the best way to manage the nation's finances.
More than 7 in 10 Democrats and 6 in 10 independents said they would rather put off cutting taxes than incur a deficit. Even Republicans were evenly divided. All demographic groups said it was a bad thing for the nation to run a deficit.
Even as Republicans have failed to convince Americans that the tax cut is a good idea, Democrats have been unable to persuade the public that the deficit stems from the tax cuts. About a third of the public blames the deficit on the war, a third on the recession and a tenth on the tax cuts. Still, more than 4 in 10 said important domestic programs were being hurt because of the tax cuts.
In a trend that may spell trouble for the White House, people generally say the country is headed in the right direction, but the number who say things have gone seriously off track is rising.
As for their own finances, a majority of Americans say they are having trouble paying their bills. Only a quarter say their family's financial situation has improved over the last year.
The poll also found that the Republicans' drive to make a high-profile villain of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has not succeeded. He is still a virtual unknown. Eleven percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Mr. Daschle, 15 percent unfavorable, 18 percent undecided, and 55 percent have not heard enough about him to have an opinion.
Vice President Dick Cheney is far better known, but not entirely a household name. He has a favorable rating of 39 percent, 11 percent unfavorable, 21 percent undecided and 28 percent have no opinion.