AIG Anger Vs. Bailouts, Katrina And Iraq


The uproar over the $165 million in bonuses that insurance company AIG paid to employees has continued this week -- there have even been protests outside AIG employees' homes. Certainly, some people are outraged that the bonuses were paid, but how widespread is the anger? Is it shared by most Americans, or just a noisy few? And who is feeling it most?

The most recent CBS News Poll can shed some light on those questions.

Fifty percent of Americans told us they feel angry about the bonuses paid to AIG employees. Another 38 percent say they feel bothered by those bonuses. Just 12 percent are not bothered.

Those who have heard or read a lot about the AIG bonuses are more apt to be angry – 59 percent of them say that's how they feel. Anger is also more widespread among older Americans – 61 percent of those age 45 and older describe themselves as angry, while among those under 45, just 38 percent are angry.

Demographic breakdown of anger over AIG bonuses:


45 and older




Income under $50k
Income over $50k







More women than men are mad – 55 percent of women, compared to 44 percent of men. More men than women report feeling bothered about the situation.

Anger is shared by members of all political parties, but conservatives are a little less likely to feel angry. In fact, 18 percent of them are not bothered by the bonuses -- three times the number of liberals (6 percent) who share that view, and nearly twice the percentage of moderates (10 percent).

A greater percentage of higher income Americans also describes themselves as angry.

Angry-about-AIG Americans think AIG ought to have found a way not to pay those bonuses, want the government to try to recover the money, and reject the argument that financial institutions need to pay retention bonuses in greater numbers than those who are not angry.

Earlier in March, the Pew Poll asked how Americans felt about a number of economic issues in a similar manner. Forty-eight percent said they felt angry about bailing out banks and financial institutions that made poor financial decisions, 39 percent said it bothered them, and 12 percent said it didn't bother them.

Just under four in ten said they felt angry about bailing out homeowners who took out mortgages they could not afford, 37 percent were angry about the growing federal budget deficit, and 34 percent were angry about government money being spent on special interest projects.

Previous polls have measured the public's anger, although none have used quite the same phrasing and therefore are not directly comparable.

In late September 2008, just after the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and as the U.S. economy faced a severe systemic crisis, the Gallup Poll asked Americans whether economic events of the previous two weeks had made them feel angry – 53 percent said they had felt that way.

In September 2005, an ABC News/Washington Post Poll asked Americans whether "angry" described their feeling about the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina -- 45 percent said it did. In March 2003, just as the U.S. war in Iraq began, ABC News found 30 percent felt angry about the war.

Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.

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    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.