Linda Feldmann's post on The Christian Science Monitor website is headlined: “Financial reform bill another win for Obama, but will the public care?”
That’s a good question.
Financial reform is not highly top of mind when we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country. In fact, it is hardly top of mind at all. One percent of Americans spontaneously mention corporate corruption as the nation’s top problem in our latest MIP update. And that basically is that.
The economy and related issues are by far the top "most important problem" mentions. It is possible that the desire for financial reform is lurking underneath some of these economic mentions. As in, “The nation’s top problem is the economy, and one of the problems with the economy is the unbridled power and hubris of large financial institutions which need to be curbed by new federal legislation.” But we don't hear that type of response directly.
This doesn’t mean that Americans won't perk up when financial reform is asked about directly. A Pew Research poll back in May found that 54% of Americans said that Congress “ . . . passing legislation to more strictly regulate financial institutions and markets . . . ” was very important.We certainly don't need new surveys to tell us what partisan politicians' reactions to the bill are going to be. Both sides of the aisle are already busily spinning the legislation.
President Obama, naturally enough, is extolling its virtues:
“All told, this reform puts in place the strongest consumer financial protections in history.... Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street -- to families who are looking to buy their first home or send their kids to college; to taxpayers who shouldn’t have to pay for somebody else’s mistakes or irresponsibility; to small businesses, community banks and credit unions who play by the rules; to shareholders and investors who want to see their companies grow and thrive.”
On the other hand, here's a summary of what some Republicans are saying, courtesy of an editorial from The New York Times:
"Republican leaders disparaged the bill on ideological grounds. On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, lashed out at what he called a 'government-driven solution,' while the senior Republican on the banking committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, bemoaned 'vast new bureaucracies.'”
More simply, Republican House Minority leader John Boehner jumped in with: “It’s a bad bill.”On to the public. A review of available poll data shows that Americans are generally supportive of the idea of financial reform (all data are from before the bill passed both Houses this week, however).
Our June 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll found 55% favoring “Congress passing new legislation this year that would . . . expand government regulation of major financial institutions.”
CNN/Opinion Research Corporation in May found 60% in favor of “Congress is considering legislation that would increase federal regulation over banks, Wall Street investors, and other financial institutions.”
Also in May, CBS News gave respondents a trade-off: “The government should increase regulations on these institutions [banks and financial institutions] now to help prevent more financial crises from happening again in the future” versus “The government should not increase regulations on these institutions now, because that will discourage private investors and slow down economic growth.” The first alternative won out, 53% to 37%, with the rest unsure.
And, earlier in May, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics found 69% of respondents favoring “the federal government imposing new stricter controls and regulations on Wall Street and the financial services industry.”
I would note that this stands in some contrast to the healthcare bill passed earlier this year. Most polls showed a plurality if not a majority opposed that bill.The new financial reform bill comes at a time when Americans appear trepidatious over the role of government in American life. In June, a long-term Gallup trend question found that a majority continue to say that government is “trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” (as opposed to “government should do more to solve our country’s problems”).
Will the passage of the new financial reform bill affect the midterm elections? An answer to that question would, at this point, tilt more toward speculation than one based on empirical proof.
Republicans will use both the healthcare and financial reform bills as examples of the unwarranted expansion of government power. Democrats will champion the bills as necessary efforts to fix major societal problems using the best tools available. Which side wins this debate remains to be seen.
It will be hard for voters to have much of an indication by November of whether or not either bill is effective in addressing the problems at which it is aimed. Both bills will still be in their nascent stages. It will be too early for voters to determine if either bill is or is not working and/or having deleterious consequences.