Maybe Banks Aren’t So Great After All

When opinion surveys invite consumers to pass judgment on major industries, banks fare surprisingly well — especially when you consider the public’s general distaste for big corporations. Now, though, a survey indicates the subprime mortgage crisis and a possible recession have combined to leave Americans disenchanted with the banking sector.

In Economist/YouGov polling, respondents were asked to say how responsible various people and institutions are “for the country’s current economic problems.” When the survey solicited opinions about “banks and financial institutions,” 47 percent said these are “very responsible” for today’s woes, and another 37 percent said they’re “somewhat responsible.” Just 6 percent said they are “not responsible,” with the rest unsure. Older people were especially inclined to blame the banking/financial sector: 61 percent of those 65-plus said banks and financial institutions are very responsible for the current travails, as did 56 percent of those age 45-64. This is bad news for the industry, since these are the people most likely to have money to deposit or invest.

A breakdown of the poll’s findings by household income confirms that people with money are especially apt to see the banking/financial sector as a culprit. Among those in the $100,000-plus income bracket, 60 percent said banks and financial institutions are very responsible for the current economic problems, vs. 48 percent of the $50,000-99,999 cohort and 41 percent of those making less than $50,000. It’s populism in reverse! And while consumer-confidence indices nearly always find men more upbeat than women, that didn’t prevent men in this poll from being more likely than women (56 percent vs. 40 percent) to heap blame on the banks.

It’d be handy for private-sector banks if people focused their ire on our public-sector bankers. Alas, just 25 percent of respondents said they think the Federal Reserve Board is very responsible for the economy’s woes, with another 48 percent holding it somewhat responsible. Whatever Ben Bernanke’s other virtues may be, he has little current utility as a public whipping boy.