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Sixty percent oppose government efforts to save companies.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Americans decidedly oppose the government's efforts to save struggling companies by taking ownership stakes even if failure of the businesses would cost jobs and harm the economy, a new poll shows.

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, but without greater damage to the economy.

"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.