DETROIT -- The public is far more supportive of the auto industry bailouts than the government's decision to bail out distressed financial giants in 2009, according to a Harris poll released Monday.
About 45 percent of those polled said the federal government's decision to extend more than $77 billion in emergency loans and bankruptcy financing to General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 "helped" the economy, according to the online poll conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive between March 12 and 19. Harris surveyed 2,451 adults and found that about 29 percent of Americans say the auto bailouts "hurt" the economy. About 5 percent were unsure.
The bailouts have generated fierce debate in the presidential campaign. President Barack Obama has cited the auto industry's return to profitability and hiring as proof of the bailouts' success. Republican contenders, led by likely nominee Mitt Romney, have criticized the bailouts.
Some 23 percent of Americans say the bank bailouts helped the economy, while 48 percent said the bailouts hurt the economy and 6 percent were unsure, according to the poll. About 15 percent of Americans said insurance industry bailouts helped the economy, while 42 percent said they hurt and 9 percent were unsure.
Harris cautioned that word choice can affect how voters view the government's decisions, with "bailout" generating negative opinions and "saving" or "rescuing" producing positive thoughts. The Harris Poll referred to the government's moves as "bailouts" in questions to respondents.
The poll also found that the public would oppose additional bailout funds for the auto industry by a margin of 70-30.
The poll comes as GM and Chrysler have returned to sound financial standing. After shedding debt, reducing labor costs, and cutting their manufacturing capacity, GM and Chrysler have added thousands of jobs and returned to profitability.
Counterpart Ford Motor Co., which avoided a bailout and bankruptcy, is also profitable and has added thousands of jobs.
GM reported a profit of $7.6 billion in 2011, while Chrysler posted a $183-million profit. The auto companies have added thousands of jobs over the last two years as sales surged.
The U.S. government still owns about 26.5 percent of GM stock. Chrysler, now majority-owned by Italian automaker Fiat, has repaid its loans.