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New Poll Looks At Election, Palin, Bailout

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Going into Monday's stunning defeat of the bailout in the House, one fact seemed unassailable. For most members, voting in favor of it meant defying public opinion. The bill was unpopular. The top House Democrat, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said as much.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): It's hard for members on both sides of the aisle to support an initiative that they just recently learned of, that is very unpopular among the American people in terms of what their first look at it.

SIEGEL: And many Republicans expressed a similar sentiment. Darrell Issa of California said this about the bailout.

Representative DARRELL ISSA (Republican, California): It does not do what the American people are asking to do which is to protect their tax dollars.

SIEGEL: Congressmen said that their telephone calls and emails from constituents were running hugely against the bailout. Liberal and conservative radio talk show hosts shared endless complaints. So, our friend, Andrew Kohut, who doesn't have a talk show, but does direct the Pew Research Center, has some interesting polling out this week, and he joins us, along with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Welcome to both of you. Andy, true or false, Americans are dead set against that bailout bill?

Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center): False. What the polls have shown, including ours, is that the public has been divided over this plan. And the poll that we did this weekend, finishing up on Friday night, there was a little less support than last week. But 45 percent said it was the right thing to do, 38 percent said it was the wrong thing to do. The ABC Washington Post had a 45-7 split on a Monday night poll. So, it's not neither a popular or unpopular bill. But it evokes a great deal of emotion. People are angry, they're scared, they're confused, and they have a lot of reservations about it. But by and large, there's not this ground swell of opposition that the members of Congress who've been against it say they're hearing.

SIEGEL: Mara, how do you explain then the wall-to-wall perception that the public was overwhelmingly against this?

MARA LIASSON: Because the members of Congress said they were, over and over, again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: I mean, but look, if they were, if it was overwhelmingly unpopular which the polls do not show it was, there would have been a rout in the House. There wasn't a rout, it was a close vote. And don't forget, people voted against this for many different reasons. Some of them in close races, of course, voted against because they thought it was unpopular and maybe in some of those districts, it really was. But some of them voted on ideological grounds. People who have perfectly safe seats just didn't like this for a variety of reasons.

But I do think, you know, you had some loud voices against it on radio talk shows, but you have this Washington Post poll that came out this week that said 51 percent to 47 percent are confident that these efforts will prevent the situation from getting worse. Look, I also think that, what I've heard, is that the tide is changing a little bit as this, the effects of the financial crisis reach Main Street. People's opinions about whether the government should do this are changing.

SIEGEL: You think the 700 point drop in the Dow focuses the mind a bit for many people?

LIASSON: Yes, and payrolls being unable to be financed.

SIEGEL: Andy, you have some other big polling results out, today. The last time that I spoke with you here, you reported that your poll showed the presidential race tied after Obama had been leading earlier in the summer. Today, not the case anymore.

Mr. KOHUT: Not the case for the first time since the mid-summer. We have a 49 to 42 percent lead for Obama. He's statistically ahead. Other polls have this week, after the debate, have shown a modest Obama margin. It's clear that the debate was good for him. More people thought he did a good job than thought that was the case for McCain, and he improved his leadership image. The huge margin that McCain has held over him as a candidate with a better, potentially better judgment in crisis was all but wiped away on this debate.

SIEGEL: I'm now going to play for both of you a sound clip from a big internet video hit of the week. This is a question from Katie Couric and an answer from Sarah Palin.

(Soundbite of video clip)

Ms. KATIE COURIC (CBS News): What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Republican, Vice Presidential Candidate): I've read most of them, again, with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Ms. COURIC: Well, like, what one specifically? I'm curious that you...

Ms. PALIN: All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

SIEGEL: Andy, I'll spare you the Couric follow up and the very similar answer. Your poll says Sarah Palin, who is tonic for the ticket a month ago, no longer.

Mr. KOHUT: No. We now have a 51 percent majority saying that she would not be qualified to serve as president if she had to, reverse of what we found two weeks ago. She's still likeable to many people, but doubts about her qualification are correlated with lack of support for McCain.

SIEGEL: Mara, for those who ask if Sarah Palin does poorly in the debate, might she leave the GOP ticket? The long answer is?

LIASSON: I think she'd have to do extremely poorly to leave the ticket. She'd have to collapse into an incoherent heap.

SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. Thanks to both of you.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.