Americans Split on Bailout Plan: NBC/WSJ Survey

By John Harwood

Americans are split on supporting the Bush administration's rescue plan for Wall Street, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey shows that just 31 percent approve of the plan that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, while 33 percent disapprove and another 28 percent have no opinion. The telephone poll of 1,157 registered voters, conducted Sept. 19-22, carries a margin for error of three percentage points.

The lack of consensus explains two major political developments: President Bush's decision to address the nation tonight around 9 p.m., and the decision by presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to consult on the search for compromise. Mr. McCain went further, saying he would suspend his campaign and perhaps skip the first scheduled debate on Friday night in favor of working to pass the bailout package.

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The NBC-WSJ survey shows Mr. Obama leading Mr. McCain narrowly, 48 percent to 46 percent, in the presidential race. That essentially matches Mr. Obama's 47 percent to 46 percent edge in a NBC-WSJ survey earlier this month.

But the survey shows other underlying conditions in the race favoring Mr. Obama more strongly. Obama supporters express far higher levels of enthusiasm than McCain supporters, and Americans want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress by 50 percent to 37 percent.

Respondents also identified the economy as the top issue in the race, and prefer Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain in handling it by 46 percent to 34 percent. On handling the Wall Street financial crisis, Americans back Mr. Obama by a narrower 35 percent to 30 percent margin.

Underscoring the challenging facing the Bush administration and Congressional leaders in pushing through the bailout package, the survey showed Americans with strongly negative views about the financial industry. Just 10 percent expressed confidence in the industry, while 55percent expressed little or no confidence. By similar margins, Americans expressed a lack of confidence in large corporations.

Americans were marginally less negative about the federal government, with 19percent expressing confidence and 35 percent lacking confidence. Some 17 percent voiced confidence in the national news media, while 44 percent lacked confidence.