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The Commentariat's Representativeness Problem

Potential bankruptcy of one of the major U.S. automakers would roil Detroit, but few Americans think it would clearly hurt the auto industry or necessarily be a bad thing for the country's economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Only about one in five of those polled (21 percent) said it would be a "bad thing" for the automakers if one or more of the big three filed for bankruptcy protection, as twice as many (43 percent) said that would prove to be a "good thing" in the long run; about a third (31 percent) said such a move would not make much difference either way.

More broadly, Americans are split about evenly on whether the economy would benefit (30 percent) or suffer (27 percent) if GM, Ford or Chrysler sought shelter under bankruptcy laws. About four in 10 (38 percent) said the economy would not likely move either way as a result.

In terms of the impact on consumers, most, 65 percent, said they would be no more or less apt to buy a car from company that declared bankruptcy while it reorganized its business structure.

Whatever happens this week, it will yield political challenges for President Obama, whose lowest approval rating in the new poll came for his handling of the situation with U.S. automakers. Overall, 41 percent said they approve of how Obama has dealt with the situation so far; 53 percent said they disapprove. Disapproval peaks at 67 percent among Republicans, but sizable percentages of independents (61 percent) and Democrats (36 percent) also rate the president negatively on this front.

On the potential implications of bankruptcy protection, partisan differences were muted compared with the big divide on the president's handling of the issue: About four in 10 Democrats (37 percent) and Republicans (43 percent) said bankruptcy protection for one or more automakers would be a good thing for the industry, and about four in 10 across party lines said bankruptcy in Detroit would not have a large effect on the economy.

Full Post-ABC poll data here.

Q. The government has proposed using up to 700 billion dollars to shore up failing financial institutions on Wall Street. Some people say it's a bailout that those companies don't deserve. Other people say it's necessary to protect the broader economy. On balance, do you support or oppose this plan?
Support NET: 42 percent; Oppose NET: 51 percent


SOURCE: Washington Post-ABC News poll

Thanks to reader Stan Shore for pointing out an error in the above chart.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  April 9, 2009; 4:05 PM ET
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