New Poll Shows Weak Support for Financial Reform

Americans might not be as eager for financial reform as Washington thinks, according to a new YouGovPolimetrix National Omnibus/Hamilton Place Poll out today. Just 44% of respondents strongly or somewhat favor "new laws to overhaul government regulation of financial institutions." And some of the more granular results are even more surprising.

For starters, most of those polled don't think financial reform should be one of the top two priorities for Washington. In fact, just 18% think it should be given that level of importance by policymakers. 61% did, however, believe that financial reform was at least fairly important.

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It would probably be useful if the same question was asked a year earlier: with the financial crisis still clear in the memory of Americans back then, it's likely that there would have been more interest in financial reform. Democrats may have squandered their opportunity pursue more aggressive regulation with broader public support at that time compared to the effort's current lackluster support.

Speaking of Democrats, they led those who support more regulation with 69% in favor. But it's astonishing how few independents support reform -- just 37%. Only 23% of Republicans support it.

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Possibly the most shocking part of the poll: just 12% of respondents believe establishing a consumer financial protection agency is the most important aspect of financial reform. Most are more worried about the too big to fail problem that leads to government rescues. 36% ranked that the most important, split between the general elimination of bailouts (33%) and creating a resolution authority (3%).

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Here's how that breaks down by respondents' political affiliation:

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Even though bailouts are a major concern, those polled are utterly skeptical that the government can prevent them in the future. Only 14% have "quite a bit" or a "great deal" of confidence that new regulation could stop bailouts. 45% have very little confidence or none at all.

The results were pretty similar regarding the likelihood that reform can protect consumers. Just 15% of respondents have "quite a bit" or a "great deal" of confidence that new regulations could provide more rights to consumers that would significantly improve the way banks and financial institutions treat customers. In fact, 52% have a "quite a bit" or a "great deal" of concern that additional regulation could raise costs or limit credit for average customers and small business. These stats don't speak well for the political popularity of a consumer financial protection agency.

At this point, financial reform isn't likely to involve the passionate protest and lively debate on the part of average Americans that was seen during the fight for the health care reform. The poll found that only about half of Americans are even paying somewhat close attention to financial reform currently. But as Congress begins more aggressively pursuing a bill, the public's interest could increase.

Note: According to Hamilton Place this is a purely independent policy poll intended to add additional understanding to the regulatory reform debate.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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