November 22,2011

By: Jill Mizell

As the Occupy Wall Street movement charges on, and consumers threaten to “move their money” out of major banks, public opinion shows some areas of common agreement between the general public and the protestors. According to an October ABC/Washington Post survey, 70% of the public has an “unfavorable” view of financial institutions on Wall Street. Distrust of financial institutions is nothing new, and trends have been heading in a negative direction for Wall Street, with fewer believing Wall Street benefits the country, and more agreeing that Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulation. Big banks are not perceived to be trustworthy and patrons of big banks are highly dissatisfied, resulting in an uncomfortable percentage of customers expressing that they may not stay with their current institution. 

Distrust of Financial Institutions

Even before the Occupy Wall Street movement, a large majority (83%) believe Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulations, although this is down slightly from 87% in 2009 (Harris Poll, May 2011). Perhaps driving support for stronger regulation is a sense of disconnect and distrust. A majority of Americans (64%) disagree with the notion that what is good for Wall Street is good for the country, and 70% now disagree that people on Wall Street are as honest and moral as other people. According to a recent GfK survey, the top reasons for mistrust of corporations (not just financial institutions) are “CEOs and senior executives being overpaid”; “corruption among corporate management”; that companies “make up lost earnings at their customers’ expense”; and that “more and more products are being made overseas.” 

Sixteen percent of Americans now believe that Wall Street, defined as the nation’s largest banks, investment banks, stockbrokers, and other financial institutions, harms the United States “a lot,” according to the May 2011 Harris Poll, up from the lowest point of 3% in 2000. Nearly four in 10 (39%) believe that Wall Street harms the country somewhat or a lot, yet a majority (55%) believe Wall Street benefits the country, although this number is down substantially from just five years ago (73% in 2006) and from its high point in 1997 (80%). 

In fact, a January NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that people have more confidence in the federal government than in the financial industry:

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Data from NBC/Wall Street Journal Survey, January 2011

Should Big Banks be Worried?

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive in November shows a high level of dissatisfaction and distrust with the major banks. Three in four credit union patrons (74%) report that their credit union is excellent or very good at “ensuring a trustworthy relationship” with them. Bank of America patrons are the most disgruntled, with just a quarter (25%) saying the same for them. One in three (33%) patrons of JP Morgan Chase and 37% of Wells Fargo/Wachovia patrons give their banks high ratings for establishing a trustworthy relationship. More credit union customers (73%) give their institution a high rating for overall satisfaction (extremely or very satisfied) compared to Bank of America (27%), JP Morgan Chase (31%), and Wells Fargo/Wachovia (34%) customers. Majorities across all institutions say they are likely to continue banking at their institution, but three in ten Bank of America patrons (29%) and two in ten JP Morgan Chase (21%) and Wells Fargo/Wachovia (22%) patrons say they are not likely to stay with their bank (compared to just 3% of credit union patrons).

To read more on public opinion in relation to economic mobility, the American Dream, and the role of institutions, please see a new memorandum by The Opportunity Agenda “Public Opinion on Opportunity and the American Dream, Homeownership, and Housing.”