U.S. consumers are less confident that the federal government will stand up to the auto industry, CR’s second Consumer Voices Survey finds.

The assessment of consumer sentiment shows that the percentage of Americans who lack confidence that “the government will hold the auto industry accountable to high standards of safety and transparency” has jumped to 45 percent, up from 38 percent in January, which represented the most marked change of any question in the survey.

How to explain the change in public confidence? Industry experts and consumer advocates CR spoke with pointed to several explanations, including appointments the new administration has made.

In some cases, former industry lobbyists have been appointed to key policymaking positions. And at the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates tailpipe emissions, President Donald Trump has appointed, and the Senate has approved, Scott Pruitt, a former state attorney general from Oklahoma, to run the federal agency.  

More on Car Safety

Pruitt has said he doesn’t believe that carbon dioxide is primary contributor to climate change, and is outspoken about wanting to roll back regulations that could impede oil, gas, and coal production.

One 59-year-old male survey respondent from the Northeast, who was concerned about Pruitt’s leadership of the EPA, said “We have someone that is running the EPA that is actually opposed to the EPA and I am not comfortable with that.”

The EPA did not respond to questions about Pruitt's stance on climate change or whether emissions from U.S. cars and trucks need to be reduced.

The agency’s moves on fuel economy could also be driving the consumer sentiment in our survey, says Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for energy and environment for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports.

In late January, automaker CEOs had a face-to-face meeting with President Trump asking for a reconsideration of fuel economy standards finalized under the Obama administration, Baker-Branstetter explains, and within a few weeks, President Trump announced that the fuel economy rules would be reopened.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the largest U.S. automotive trade group, did not respond to questions about the direction of environmental policy under the Trump Administration and whether the car companies are receiving any special considerations.

But in March, when the Trump Administration  accepted the industry's suggestion to reconsider strict emissions reductions, Mitch Bainwol, the Alliance president and CEO, thanked the Trump Administration for balancing the impact on the industry and new-car prices with the need for safer and more energy-efficient vehicles. The move would create "an opportunity for decision-makers to reach a thoughtful and coordinated outcome predicated on the best and most current data," Bainwol said then.

45 percent of Americans now lack confidence that the government will hold car makers accountable, according to Consumer Reports' second Consumer Voices Survey.

The survey results are also understandable to Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. With gas prices on the rise, people may be paying more attention to fuel-economy debates than usual, he says. “It's no surprise you're seeing skepticism about how strong the administration will be in enforcing fuel-economy or safety regulations,” he says.

Finally, despite campaign promises that he would stand up for common people and would fight corporate interests, President Trump has yet to meet with consumer advocates, says Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, underscoring that consumers won’t have as much say in decisions that affect safety, public health, and the environment.

The EPA move toward deregulation comes after years of automakers lying about emissions, Greenberg says. The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal—in which one of the world’s largest automakers deceived regulators and covered up those efforts for several years—demonstrates what can happen without effective oversight, she says.

“Industry has a much bigger voice,” Greenberg says. “They have more power, and more control in regulatory decisions. People are concerned about that.”

One of our survey respondents, a 59-year-old woman and full-time worker from the Northeast, agrees. “I want the regulations that have been taken away to be put back into place,” she said. “I just think that it's a bad time to be a consumer.”