Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren may not end up in the White House, but their efforts to influence the Democratic agenda seem to be paying off. A recently approved draft of the Democratic Party platform strikes a populist tone on Wall Street reform, calling for policy prescriptions championed by the progressive wing of the party. When it comes to the way Democrats talk about Wall Street, what once was fringe has made its way into the mainstream, though that doesn’t mean words will translate into action.
While not binding, what makes it into the platform—and what does not—says a lot about consensus and controversy among Democrats. Notably, the draft endorses a modern version of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era banking law that Sanders has described as a mechanism for breaking up big banks. Sanders and Warren have both supported reinstating a 21st-century version of the law. “What we are seeing is an aggressive economic populism winning out,” said Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive think tank. “The Wall Street provisions in the platform show that. It marks a shift for the party from where it was 20 years ago.”
The shift reflects public sentiment. Americans lost trust in U.S. banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, “few institutions have seen such a steep drop in confidence in recent years.” In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement channeled that anger into protest culture. That year, just 36 percent of Americans believed Wall Street helps the economy more than it hurts it, a Pew survey showed, finding that only 29 percent of Democrats shared that view, compared with 49 percent of Republicans. That distrust has not disappeared: During the current presidential-primary season, Sanders and Donald Trump have showed that populist discontent at wealthy elites translates into votes.