The Recession

Big Three Car Makers Seen as Less Essential to Economy

| by Rasmussen Reports

Americans have a much dimmer view of each of the Big Three automakers than they did two years ago, but 41% still believe the U.S. automobile industry is very important to the financial stability of the overall economy. That, however, is down from 49% in 2007.

Another 42% rate the auto industry somewhat important to U.S. economic stability, and just one percent (1%) say it’s not at all important, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

The two automakers that have been most aggressive in seeking taxpayer help to stay in business, General Motors and Chrysler, have fallen furthest in the public’s esteem. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans now have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of Ford while 42% say the same about GM and 36% hold that view of Chrysler. A plurality have an unfavorable opinion of both GM and Chrysler.

These findings come as the major automakers are expected to announce today that January sales have not improved from the dramatic downturn in the fourth quarter of 2008, in all probability dropping to a 27-year low.

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Fifty-five percent (55%) of Americans now say it’s good for the economy when foreign automakers open plants here, down slightly since 2007. Americans are now warier of foreign automakers. In 2007 just 19% thought it was bad for the economy when they opened plants here; now 27% believe that to be the case.

Nearly two-thirds of investors like the economic impact of foreign auto plants opening in the United States. But non-investors are more closely divided.

In March 2007, nearly half of Americans (49%) rated the auto industry very important to the overall economy, with 35% viewing it as somewhat important and two percent (2%) as not at all important.

While 46% of investors said the domestic automakers are very important to the stability of the U.S. economy in the earlier survey, just 43% feel that way now.

Democrats, with the United Auto Workers union as a key constituency, are slightly more supportive of the industry than Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

Only 11% of Americans have a Very Favorable view of General Motors, half as many as in 2007. Twenty percent (20%) see the company in a very unfavorable light, compared to five percent (5%) in the earlier survey.

Chrysler has similar numbers. Viewed very favorably by 15% two years ago, that number has now dropped to six percent (6%). Those who have a very unfavorable opinion have climbed from nine percent (9%) to 21%.

Ford, which did not request any federal bailout assistance, has suffered in popularity, too, but not as much. Eleven percent (11%) of Americans now have a very favorable opinion of Ford, compared to 18% two years ago. Very unfavorables are 14%, up from 10% in 2007.

Democrats have a slightly higher overall opinion of General Motors and Chrysler than Republicans and unaffiliated voters. Ford is more popular with GOP voters and unaffiliateds.

Investors also like a company that doesn’t seek a bailout. Eleven percent (11%) of investors have a Very Favorable opinion of Ford, compared to 9% for General Motors and four percent (4%) for Chrysler. Conversely, 16% of investors have a Very Unfavorable view of Ford versus 24% for GM and 26% for Chrysler.

Two years ago, General Motors was investors’ favorite, followed by Ford and Chrysler.

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