- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Americans have low expectations of what Congress can and should do to prevent future situations like the collapse of Enron Corp., according to a new poll.

While 41 percent of those surveyed said that in its efforts to reform 401(k) retirement plans Congress will "start off with good intentions, but make things worse," 28 percent said Congress will have no effect regardless of what it does. Only 23 percent said Congress will make things better.

The survey, by Washington-based Andres McKenna Research, polled 600 registered voters nationwide and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Some questions in the poll, conducted Feb. 12-14, were asked on behalf of senior administration and congressional officials looking to gauge what the public is expecting from Congress in the wake of Enron. The survey found that as far as congressional action goes, people want tools that will help them control their own finances.

Several questions referred to Enron's practice of requiring employees to keep much of their retirement plan in Enron stock. When the company's stock fell, employees lost a large portion of their savings.

But less than half of respondents thought Congress should forbid companies from making those rules. A quarter of respondents said Congress should limit the amount of any one company's stock in a 401(k) plan, and 36 percent said Congress should allow people to sell stock soon after receiving it.

On the other hand, half of respondents said Congress should make it easier for companies to provide financial advice to employees and there is a bill that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate to do just that.

"This Enron thing is instructive in that people actually see what a lack of ability to manage their own destiny means it means you're trusting somebody else to make your own decisions for you," said Michael McKenna, who conducted the poll.

In addition to control over personal retirement plans, respondents said they also would like control over part of their Social Security savings.

Asked to choose the worse option, 53 percent said it would be worse for the federal government not to allow personal choice in Social Security investments, while 37 percent said it would be worse for companies not to allow employees to sell stock.

The survey found that Americans consider Enron a legitimate news story. Asked what's driving the story, respondents rejected typical cynical answers like the media trying to fill time or politicians wanting television airtime.

Instead, a strong majority, 61 percent, said the story is getting attention because it "is about corporate corruption." Only 13 percent said the story is being pursued because it gives Democrats a chance to embarrass President Bush.

The survey also found belief in the American dream is alive and well. Almost three out of four respondents said people's success is "a result of their talents and how they use them," while 20 percent said success is largely due to factors outside people's control.

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