The Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll of views on the Constitution found little support for the idea that the government had to save AIG, the world's largest insurer, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the iconic American company General Motors last year because they were too big to fail.
Just 38 percent of Americans favor government intervention - with 60 percent opposed - to keep a company in business to prevent harm to the economy. The number in favor drops to a third when jobs would be lost, without greater damage to the economy.
Similarly strong views showed up over whether the president should have more power at the expense of Congress and the courts, if doing so would help the economy. Three-fourths of Americans said no, up from two-thirds last year.
"It really does ratify how much Americans are against the federal government taking over private industry," said Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist and AP consultant who analyzed the results of the survey.
Michael Butts, 61, a longtime worker in the oil business in southeastern New Mexico, said Lavrakas was right. "People put their money up and either they make it or they don't. That's just the way it is," said Butts, who lives in Artesia, N.M.
But James O'Toole, a mechanic from Monson, Mass., said the government needed to step in to prevent even more jobs from being lost in the rocky economy. "So far, it seems to have helped," said O'Toole, 53.
Nearly eight months into Barack Obama's presidency, most people believe laws to protect the voting rights of minorities are no longer needed. Nearly two-thirds oppose preferences for minorities in hiring.
"I think that the best person for the job should get the job. I don't think somebody should be promoted over somebody because of their sex or race. It should be based on merit, not on any other sort of criteria," said Summer Crane, 30, who works in accounting in Ukiah, Calif.
The poll found a small majority in support of extending to same-sex couples the same benefits given to married, heterosexual couples. By a similar margin, however, Americans oppose government recognition of gay marriage.
On other big issues of the day, the public was split over whether the government should assure that everyone has health insurance and undocumented workers in the United States should be given a path to become citizens.
Lavrakas said his analysis of the poll showed the strongest opponents of gay marriage, citizenship for undocumented workers, health care reform and affirmative action are white, Republican men who live in rural areas.
"They are firm and resolute in their beliefs, and the Obama administration is not going to sway them," he said.
Linda Johnson, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, said the poll's findings on health care mesh with what she observed at one of the first health care town hall meetings at the center's Philadelphia headquarters. "It was not by any stretch dominated by one side or the other. People were talking on both sides of the issues," Johnson said. The nonpartisan center is dedicated to educating the public about the Constitution.
She also said she was heartened by even stronger support than a year ago for the view that the Constitution is an enduring document that remains relevant and that rule of law should be followed, even at the expense of short-term public safety considerations.
"Americans seem to show an increased attachment" to those two propositions that are central to the center's work, Johnson said.
The AP-National Constitution Center poll involved telephone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide. The survey was conducted Sept. 3-8 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.