Just 16 percent of voters nationwide believe it was a good idea for the government to provide Solyndra with loan guarantees. The solar power company went bankrupt and stuck taxpayers with the tab for a half-billion dollars.
The Obama administration generally has responded to questions about the program in the way a venture capital firm would respond to questions about a portfolio loss. They note that similar government investments have turned out just fine and that it's only fair to look at their portfolio as a whole.
It's not a bad argument if you believe government should behave like a venture capitalist. But the American people soundly reject that notion. Only 27 percent believe it's ever appropriate for the government to make investments in private companies.
One reason is that people tend to view government as a lousy investor. Seventy-one percent believe that private sector companies and investors are better than government officials at determining the long-term benefits and potential of new technologies. Only 11 percent believe government officials have a better eye for future value.
If the government provides funding for a project that private investors refuse to back, 64 percent believe the government money will be wasted.
In addition to questions about competence, there are concerns about corruption and crony capitalism. Sixty-six percent of voters believe most government contracts are given to the company with the most political connections rather than the one that can provide the best service for the best price.
Americans agree that it's important to develop alternative sources of energy, but precisely because they consider it important, they are even more skeptical about government funding.
Most voters believe free market competition is more likely than government subsidies and regulation to help the United States develop alternative sources of energy. By a nearly two-to-one margin, voters also believe the solar power industry will be stronger in the long run if it is developed by the private sector and private investors. Just 31 percent believe it would be stronger with the help of government subsidies and investments.
That's the reason voters oppose government investments in Solyndra, direct subsidies for Chevy's Volt electric car and all other forms of corporate welfare.
The current campaign debate over Solyndra misses all of this. It's not a question of whether the Solyndra deal was a good or a bad investment. It's a question of whether the government should be providing corporate welfare in any form.
Those who mistakenly believe the Solyndra issue will help Mitt Romney's campaign should keep in mind a couple of very simple facts. First, by a three-to-one margin, voters believe elected politicians routinely provide help to favored companies. Second, seven out of 10 Americans believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.
In other words, Americans believe crony capitalism is a reality regardless of which party is in the White House. This is the root cause of much of the frustration sweeping the nation today.
Voters don't want to be selecting a venture capitalist in chief; they want to pick someone to run the government. And they want the government to stop picking winners and losers in the business world.