Enron: Who's To Blame?

Americans believe there was wrongdoing at the Enron Corporation, although few are concerned that what happened to Enron's employees is likely to happen to them. And while many speculate that the Bush administration may not be telling all it knows about its relationship with the now-bankrupt energy company, most Americans don't yet see wrongdoing in its response.

For many Americans, it is still early in the Enron story – in fact, one-third say they haven't heard much about the collapse of Enron so far. But for those with an opinion, the direction is clear. By more than 20 to one, Americans say senior Enron executives did something wrong in the collapse.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
DID ENRON EXECUTIVES DO WRONG?

 YesNo
Total

45%

2%


 YesNo
Those Paying Attention

78%

1%

CBSNEWS Polls

Just about half aren't sure. But among the one-third paying a lot of attention, the figures are even more dramatic: 78 percent think the executives did something wrong.

One wrong thing Enron executives did was to sell their own company stock while preventing most employees from selling theirs. By more than nine to one, the public thinks this should not have been allowed.

Another mistake was to approach the government to ask for assistance, which Enron executives did several times last fall. By 52 percent to 34 percent, the public thinks that was not appropriate. The negative margin is even higher among those more closely following the story.

On the other hand, by 54 percent to 28 percent, Americans say the Bush administration did the right thing by NOT intervening to help Enron.

CAN IT HAPPEN TO YOU?

Almost two-thirds of working Americans who are saving for retirement have a 401(K) plan – and many of them say part of that plan includes stock in their company. So far most of them are not worried that what happened to Enron employees could happen to them. Just 5 percent say they are very worried that they have too much of their retirement funds invested in their company’s stock, 56 percent are not worried at all and 37 percent are somewhat worried.

Americans want the government to take action in some circumstances, but not in all. For example, by 69 percent to 21 percent, they say is it NOT the government’s responsibility to make up people's pension losses if they are invested in the workers' company stock and the company goes bankrupt.

Even though Americans support the government's decision not to help Enron, they do think that there are times when the government should step in to help large companies whose bankruptcy could seriously hurt the economy. Just 27 percent say the government should never intervene in those cases; 59 percent think it should. Younger adults are the most likely to supprt government intervention in both cases.

THE WHITE HOUSE: INSULATED FROM ENRON'S COLLAPSE?

The rise in President George W. Bush's overall approval rating since September 11 has insulated the president from some of the criticisms that were common earlier in his administration, and that may be particularly helpful in coping with the collapse of Enron – at least for the time being.

In August, two-thirds of the public believed the oil industry had too much influence in the Bush administration – now only 42 percent say that. A similar percentage, 35 percent, says the energy industry has too much influence.

And while the majority of Americans think many public officials make or change policy decisions based on campaign contributions, fewer think anyone in the Bush administration has done so, and even fewer think the president has. Perceptions of George W. Bush’s freedom from campaign contributors’ influence have improved since his campaign, and he scores better than former President Bill Clinton did when he was in office.

In each of the specific cases, however, at least a quarter of respondents admit they don’t know if campaign contributions have ever affected a decision. More Democrats than Republicans think campaign contributions have influenced the policies of Mr. Bush and his administration.

ENRON’S POTENTIAL EFFECT ON THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Enron personnel's closeness to this administration, and its executives' meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney's task force on energy policy, takes on a negative connotation. By more than two to one, Americans think that Enron executives did have at least some influence on the administration’s energy policy. Among those who did think Enron had influence, most say that influence was inappropriate.

Those paying a lot of attention to the story are more suspicious of the administration than those who are not. They also are more likely to think that members of the Bush administration have traded favors for contributions. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to perceive Enron's influence within the administration as appropriate, by 46 percent to 18 percent.

And while most Americans don't see wrongdoing in the administration, many think that some members are hiding information about their involvement. Although less than one in ten thinks members of the Bush administration have lied about their dealing with Enron executives, just under half think they are hiding something.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
BUSH ADMINISTRATION STATEMENTS ABOUT ENRON

 Telling entire truthHiding somethingLying

19%

44%

9%

CBSNEWS Polls

Nevertheless, for now Americans have yet to make up their minds. Seventy-three percent say they don't know enough yet to say whether the Bush administration actually did something wrong in connection with Enron.

NATIONAL ECONOMIC WOES

Seventy percent of the public now sees the U.S. in a recession, the highest figure since 1991. This belief jumped up almost immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, and has risen in the following months. And among those who think the country is in a recession, most don't think the recovery has begun yet.

The belief that the U.S. was in recession had been increasing throughout 2001. Thirty-five percent felt there was recession in February, a month before the economists marked this recession’s start. As for now, just one in four Americans don't think there is a recssion. Twenty-four percent say there is a recession but it will be over soon, and 40 percent say the recovery is not yet in sight.

More than three-quarters of the public say the Bush administration's policies bear some of the responsibility for the recession – but only one in four say those policies bear a lot of the responsibility. However, that number has grown since last April, when 18 percent placed a lot of blame on Mr. Bush's policies.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,030 adults, interviewed by telephone January 15-17, 2002. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


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