Six in 10 Americans say they are following the collapse of Enron closely, according to a February 2002 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Yet how much the Enron scandal will affect public opinion of corporate practices and responsibility is open to debate. Many people were particularly sensitized to the story of Enron's demise because they realized the impact one company's failure can have on one's future â€” in terms of stock plans, 401(k)s and the ever-evanescent prospect of retirement. In the past, such scandals and lawsuits did not significantly alter American perceptions of big business. In October 1999, for example, following several high-profile court cases filed against tobacco companies, 6 in 10 Americans said they thought cigarette makers should not be financially liable for illnesses suffered by smokers, according to a poll conducted by International Communications Research (ICR)/ABC News. Separately, in an ICR/ABC News poll from April 2000, 60 percent of Americans felt that Microsoft should not be broken up into smaller entities despite court recommendations.
Americans have such a high opinion of business that they are reluctant to find fault with the system. Instead, they seem to focus on targeting a bad guy (a political leader, CEO or unnamed executives) and a victim (in the case of Enron, shareholders). Most people are reluctant to see President George W. Bush as being at fault â€” only 24 percent believe the Bush administration did â€œsomething illegalâ€? and only 36 percent say it did â€œsomething unethical,â€? according to Pew. However, almost half (49 percent) say the administration is â€œhiding somethingâ€? behind the closed doors of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy commission meetings. Overall, the GOP has suffered from some public opinion backlash over Enron, even while President Bush's ratings remain high.