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Poll: Americans Want The Bonuses Back

Americans find it unacceptable for companies receiving federal bailout money to pay their employees bonuses, according to a new CBS News poll, and a majority say the government should try to recover the $165 million in bonus money recently paid to employees of insurance company AIG.

The public doesn't agree with the argument made by some in the financial services industry that bonuses are necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

Sixty-five percent of the people polled said companies receiving federal bailout money should award absolutely no bonuses. About a quarter (26 percent) said it was acceptable to give bonuses only to mid and low level employees, while only 6 percent said companies on federal life support should be able to hand out bonuses to whomever they chose.

Partisanship did not affect people's views on this issue - most Democrats and Republicans agreed bonuses in such cases were unacceptable. Those with lower education and income levels were a little more apt to find bonuses for rank-and-file employees acceptable, but most still deemed it unacceptable for these companies to give employees bonuses at all.

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AIG Bonuses:

Just over a week ago it was announced that the American Insurance Group, Inc. (AIG), the ailing insurance company that has received over $170 billion in loans from the federal government, recently paid bonuses to employees. Seventy-seven percent of Americans think the government should try to recover the bonus money paid by AIG.

Democrats are most likely to support trying to recover the money (85 percent), but most Republicans (68 percent) and independents (74 percent) concur.


Moreover, 76 percent of the Americans polled didn't think the government should provide any additional money to AIG to prevent the insurance giant from going into bankruptcy. Just 15 percent said AIG should be given more government money if needed.

The Need For Bonuses:

Some executives in the financial industry have defended paying bonuses, arguing that they must do so in order to attract and retain employees. Americans do not share that view: just 23 percent of those polled agreed that banks and financial institutions need to pay some employees large bonuses. Seventy-one percent disagreed.

We're Watching:

Many Americans said they were closely following the story, with 57 percent saying they had heard or read a lot about corporate bonuses, and another 29 percent saying they had heard or read some. Just 14 percent of those asked said they had heard not much or nothing at all about it.


Those paying attention to the story were more likely to have said the bonuses are unacceptable, and that the government should try to recover the bonus money already paid to AIG employees.

Despite weeks of "outrage" from lawmakers and testimony last week by AIG's CEO on Capitol Hill, 35 percent of Americans said Congress has still spent too little time on the issue. Just 26 percent said lawmakers had spent too much time on it, while about the same percentage said the right amount of time had been devoted.

More - but still less than half of those polled - said President Obama has devoted about the right amount of his attention to the AIG bonuses.

Click here to read the complete poll. (PDF)

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 949 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone March 20-22, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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