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Public Warming To Detroit, If Not Its Cars

Following up on Michelle's post below, take a look at the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which asked respondents whether they favored a bailout for Detroit. The results were 46 percent yes, 42 percent no. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement; as the Journal headline puts it, support is "tepid." But it does seem to represent a shift from as recently as a week ago, when polls showed voters opposing a bailout.

Meanwhile, the Journal story quotes congressional staff saying something I'd heard, as well: Relative to the financial bailout, which generated huge constituent outrage, members really aren't hearing much from the public on this issue. Maybe it's because the Detroit bailout is so much cheaper. Maybe it's because the auto industry CEOs sounded more contrite in their second effort at testimony. Or maybe it's because automakers are more sympathetic figures than investment bankers.

Of course, as David Leonhardt noted yesterday, Americans still seem lukewarm on actually buying the Big Three's cars--which, for the industry, is a much bigger obstacle to any possible resurgence. Perceptions here seem to be lagging reality; many consumers don't realize, for example, that the Chevy Malibu was recently rated the top car in its class. Ironically, similar lag in perceptions helped the industry as late as the 1970s, when they were clearly making inferior cars to the Japanese but the buying public remained committed to American brands.

--Jonathan Cohn