Poll finds concerns that Bush is overly influenced by business
Americans worry that President Bush and his administration are too heavily influenced by big business, fear that Mr. Bush is hiding something about his own corporate past and judge the economy to be in its worst shape since 1994, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.
The survey suggests that the unfolding revelations about corporate misconduct and inflated earnings hold considerable peril for the White House and Mr. Bush’s party in this Congressional election year. Not surprisingly, Democrats sounded particularly troubled about the administration’s handling of the corporate issue, but even Republicans shared many of the concerns.
By more than two to one, the poll’s respondents said the administration was more interested in protecting the interests of large companies than those of ordinary Americans. That concern was expressed by more than a third of Republicans and an overwhelming majority of Democrats.
Two-thirds of all respondents, and slightly more than half of Republicans, said business interests had too much influence on the Republican Party. Slightly less than half of all those polled said business exerted too much influence over the Democrats. Many Americans also expressed concerns that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had not been sufficiently forthcoming about their own past business dealings.
With the stock market falling, concern about the economy intensifying and the United States facing the continued threat of terrorist attacks, the poll found a surge since the start of the year in the percentage of people who think the country is on the wrong track. It also found that Americans’ trust in government, which climbed after Sept. 11, has slid significantly.
For all the reservations respondents expressed about the administration’s commitment to looking out for them — and about the business ethics of administration officials when they were in the private sector — Mr. Bush remains personally popular. His approval rating stands at 70 percent, continuing a steady decline from its peak of 89 percent after Sept. 11, but still impressive by any standard.
Asked whether Mr. Bush ”cares about the needs and problems of people like yourself,” 68 percent responded yes.
The nationwide telephone poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Saturday through Tuesday. It has a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
People who participated in the poll and agreed to follow-up interviews said that they often separated Mr. Bush’s performance as commander in chief from his performance on domestic issues, and that they tended to give greater weight to the fight on terrorism in judging him.
”Bush is doing his job well in Afghanistan, but the economy is falling down around us,” said Debbie Wilson, 40, an unemployed hairdresser from Elmira, N.Y.
”As far as big business’s influence on the administration, it’s hard to be sure of what is really going on,” Ms. Wilson, a Democrat, said. ”I watch the news about him and Cheney and the tycoons, and you don’t know where you’re at. The whole country seems to be too influenced by business, but there is not enough information given to the public.”
Paula Pittman-Troisi, 40, of Birmingham, Ala., said she thought Mr. Bush had been a great leader in the fight against terrorism. But she had questions about the influence of campaign contributors and big business on government.
”Though the intertwining of raising campaign funds and big business worries me, it doesn’t worry me enough to lose my faith in George Bush,” said Ms. Pittman-Troisi, a part-time securities saleswoman who is an independent voter.
Still, among the survey’s most striking findings were the responses concerning the past business practices of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. Though most of those polled said that they did not know much about the business dealings of the two, the respondents expressed skepticism about whether the president and vice president were being candid and open.
Asked whether Mr. Bush was telling the truth about his dealings at Harken Energy, an oil company where he was a director and consultant from 1986 to 1993, 48 percent of those surveyed said that they believed Mr. Bush was hiding something; another 9 percent said they thought he was mostly lying. Seventeen percent said they believed that Mr. Bush was telling the entire truth.
Yet when asked whether they thought Mr. Bush had acted honestly and ethically in his business practices while in the corporate world, 43 percent of the survey’s respondents said yes, more than double than the 21 percent who said no.
Mr. Bush has maintained that all his actions at Harken were proper, and at a White House news conference yesterday he reiterated that a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into his sale of Harken stock in 1990 ended with no action taken against him.
Mr. Cheney’s role as chief executive of the Halliburton Company, the oil services giant whose accounting practices during Mr. Cheney’s tenure are being investigated by the S.E.C., drew similarly skeptical responses. Forty-three percent of those polled said they thought Mr. Cheney was hiding something, 10 percent said they thought he was mostly lying and 11 percent said they thought he was telling the entire truth.
Asked specifically whether they thought Mr. Cheney had done anything unethical while running Halliburton, 23 percent said yes and 32 percent said no.
Mr. Cheney has declined to comment on his involvement in Halliburton’s accounting policies, citing the S.E.C. inquiry. Asked about Mr. Cheney yesterday, Mr. Bush defended him as a ”fine business leader.”
While questions about the corporate careers of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were most pronounced among Democrats and independents, Republicans also expressed concern. Thirty-nine percent of the Republicans polled said that Mr. Bush was hiding something; 37 percent said Mr. Cheney was doing so.
Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush’s spokesman, said the poll results were evidence ”of a nation that continues to strongly approve of the job the president is doing and a nation that knows the president is honest and ethical and shares the nation’s moral values.”
Mr. Bush registered positive approval ratings for his handling of foreign policy. Also, 80 percent of those polled said that Mr. Bush shared the moral values most Americans try to live by.
At the same time, people remained split about whether Mr. Bush is really in charge of what goes on in his administration.
The corporate scandals and the questions about the honesty of corporate earnings reports are clearly touching the public. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed called the issues very serious, and another 29 percent said they were somewhat serious.
The poll also found that 43 percent of respondents did not think Mr. Bush’s proposals for addressing the problems went far enough, but 36 percent said they were about right.
The poll found that 58 percent of all respondents — and 38 percent of the Republicans — said that business has too much influence on Mr. Bush himself. Two-thirds of all those surveyed, and slightly more than half the Republicans, said business has too much influence on the administration generally.
Few administrations have come to office with more corporate experience than Mr. Bush’s. But with both politics and the economic outlook being recast by the volatility on Wall Street and the reports of malfeasance within corporations, business experience that had once been the highlight of the administration’s résumé has increasingly given Democrats an opportunity to portray Republicans as detached from the concerns of average people, the poll showed.
Those surveyed were divided over whether Mr. Bush was personally more interested in helping corporations than in helping ordinary people, but 58 percent said the Republican party was primarily interested in protecting big business. Slightly more than half the Republicans polled said that business interests had too much influence with their own party.
The poll found that big business is held in relatively low regard. More than a third said they have very little confidence in big business, and 71 percent said business does only a fair — or poor — job of making sure its executives adhere to ethical and legal standards.
The survey’s findings about the business scandals were mirrored by general declines in trust in government and in views about the economic outlook.
Asked to rate the state of the economy, 49 percent said very good or fairly good, while 49 percent said fairly bad or very bad. It was the most pessimistic assessment since early 1994, when the economic boom of the last decade was just getting under way.
Larry Shepler, 42, of Chesapeake, Va., a high school teacher, said in a follow-up interview that he thought Mr. Bush was doing a good job because the country was moving in the right direction, the economy had stabilized and the war on terrorism was going reasonably well.
Mr. Shepler, a Republican, said: ”Though big business has always been too involved in the government because lobbyists for big business have always had too much influence and carry more weight than the average person, it is only coming out now because companies are in financial trouble and people are being made more aware of it.”
How the Poll Was Conducted
The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll is based on telephone interviews conducted Saturday through Tuesday with 1,000 adults throughout the United States.
The sample of telephone exchanges called was randomly selected by a computer from a complete list of more than 42,000 active residential exchanges across the country.
Within each exchange, random digits were added to form a complete telephone number, thus permitting access to listed and unlisted numbers alike. Within each household, one adult was designated by a random procedure to be the respondent for the survey.
The results have been weighted to take account of household size and number of telephone lines into the residence and to adjust for variation in the sample relating to geographic region, sex, race, age and education.
In theory, in 19 cases out of 20, the results based on such samples will differ by no more than three percentage points in either direction from what would have been obtained by seeking out all American adults.
For smaller subgroups the margin of sampling error is larger.
In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting any survey of public opinion may introduce other sources of error into the poll. Variation in the wording and order of questions, for example, may lead to somewhat different results. Autor: Richard W. Stevenson and Janet Elder