Financial Reform: Popular In Abstract And In Detail

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One of the casualties of the bitter year-long Congressional battle over health reform was good public standing of the endeavor as a whole. While individual policy proposals within the Democrats’ framework remained popular, the country soured on the patchwork package those policies formed. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released today paints a different picture for financial reform so far.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they favor “stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business.” In addition to overall support for a plan, the resolution fund — explained in the question as “Requiring large banks and other financial companies to put money into a fund that would cover the cost of taking over and breaking up any large financial company that fails and threatens the broader economy” — and consumer protection — “Increasing federal oversight of the way banks and other financial companies make consumer loans, such as mortgages and auto loans, and issue credit cards” — enjoyed majority support, polling at 53 and 59 percent in favor respectively. Regulation of derivatives was the only exception: 43 percent said they support such a measure while 41 opposed it, an effective split when taking the margin of error into account.

As with health reform, a healthy dose of skepticism is advisable when it comes to polling on detailed policy proposals. Financial regulatory reform is an enormously complex issue that journalists and lawmakers — let alone laymen — struggle to grok. But there are nevertheless a few things we can take away from the survey:

1) A deep concern with the practices of Wall Street remains almost two years after the climax of the crisis, and there is a subsequent will to expand the federal government’s power in regulating the financial sector, even when respondents are presented with specific prescriptions for change.

2) The messy legislative process of cobbling together a financial reform bill has so far avoided the public exposure that sullied health care by late 2009. (See: Kickback, Cornhusker.) That doesn’t mean it’s too late for the legislation to be marred; the Dodd bill has yet to go through the amendment process and 60 votes is always a heavy lift, especially without performance-enhancing parochialism. In addition, this particular poll makes no mention of “Congress” or “Wall Street,” two  enormously unpopular entities, when asking about policy. If the survey  was “Congress’s plan” the needle might well have moved in another direction.

3) The main line of Republican criticism against the bill hasn’t permeated public opinion. Broad support for action — including 48 percent among self-described conservatives — and majority backing for a resolution fund seem to indicate the charge of “bailouts in perpetuity” hasn’t stuck. If Republicans block Monday’s motion to proceed, they may have to explain their decision to an audience skeptical of their central argument.

It’s a mistake to put much stock in just one poll, but this offers a useful snapshot of the national mood at this point in the negotiations.

Full results (pdf.) Methodology:

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 22-25, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline and cell- phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin.