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While it may seem like Americans would be outraged by the Enron scandal, their underlying sentiment seems to be fear — not only of the pervasiveness of corporate power or business malpractice, but of what such practices mean for their own financial security.

Two January 2002 polls show that Americans believe Enron's demise indicates larger problems. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 7 in 10 say “the accounting and other practices that led to Enron's collapse are widespread in corporations,� compared with 11 percent who feel it's “an isolated instance limited to this one company.� An ABC News/Washington Post poll similarly found that 68 percent of Americans see the Enron fiasco as a sign of broader problems, compared with 25 percent who say it's “pretty much an isolated incident.� The discrepancy between the two surveys can be attributed to the stronger wording of the CBS/New York Times poll.

According to a February 2002 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the biggest lesson Americans learned from the Enron collapse is that their retirement accounts are at risk (58 percent). Next up in terms of lessons learned: executive misbehavior, with 47 percent saying CEOs are too profit-oriented. As for government responsibility, most were more sanguine: Only 32 percent say the biggest lesson is the need for more regulation.

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