Mad About Wall Street

It stands to reason that Americans would be worried as the financial system comes crashing down around them. What’s less predictable is that a majority of them are angry. A USA Today/Gallup poll fielded earlier this week (after Congress had failed to enact a rescue/bailout plan) found 53 percent saying they’ve felt angry in response to the financial turmoil of the past two weeks — exceeding the 41 percent who said they’ve felt afraid.

And it’s not just a matter of populist resentment on the part of an economically unsophisticated lumpenproletariat. Indeed, respondents at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale were the most likely to say they’ve felt angry about the meltdown of the past two weeks. Among the poll’s college graduates, 63 percent said they’ve felt angry, vs. 43 percent of those who’ve never attended college. Similarly, 62 percent of those with household income of $60,000-plus said they’ve felt angry, vs. 50 percent of those with income under that benchmark.

One might guess this pattern reflects the fact that upper-income people are more likely to have money in the stock market and, hence, are more likely to have suffered losses of their own. Actually, though, the poll found the upper incomers just a bit more likely than the lower incomers (56 percent vs. 52 percent) to say their finances have been hurt by the recent turmoil in the markets.

Respondents’ anger reflects a belief that recent events will end up having wreaked lasting damage on their personal economic circumstances. Asked how much their own finances “will be harmed in the long run,” 28 percent said “a great deal” and 41 percent said “a moderate amount,” while 22 percent said “not much” and 7 percent “not at all.”