Have we solved the banking crisis?

April 02, 2014, 2:16 PM GMT+0

Most Americans think that the banks can survive another economic crisis, while support for stricter regulation of the financial sector has declined

Since the financial crisis of 2008, American banks have been subject to an annual “stress test” – and they don’t all pass. This year’s failures by Citibank and several others underscore the serious worries Americans have about the financial system: in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll more than half believe the bank problems that led to the 2008 crisis have not been fixed. However, according to the public, more government regulation – and government management -- may not be the way to go.

In fact, Americans aren’t even sure that the government’s intervention in 2008 had a major positive impact: just 29% think government intervention prevented a financial catastrophe. More say the intervention was helpful, but in a more limited way: while the market would have continued to fall, there would not have been a catastrophe.

Just over a third of the country cite the 2008 crisis as having had an impact on them personally. Those affected come from all regions, both parties and all income levels. More of those between the ages of 45 and 64 claim to have been seriously affected than those younger and older. But those personally affected have views about the government’s intervention that are no different from the opinions of the country overall.

As time passes, fewer and fewer Americans remember being affected. In 2010, two years after the crisis, half said it had seriously affected them. Last fall, that figure dropped to 41%. Today, it is just 36%.

Fundamentally, there is little love for the banks – or for the federal government. While positive assessment of several financial institutions has crept up since 2010, assessments remain negative. Four years ago, majorities had unfavorable opinions of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and AIG. Today, those percentages have all dropped into the forties, but disapprovers still outweigh the percentage with favorable views.

And when Americans are asked if they believe the 2008 bank problems have been fixed, 54% said they have not. Still, the six years that have elapsed since the crisis have made Americans somewhat sanguine about the banking system’s ability to survive another economic crisis. Just over half say the system can survive, but most aren’t totally convinced. Only 9% think the system can definitely survive an economic crisis; 42% say only that it probably can.

Despite the public’s continuing doubts about the banks and the financial system, there is decreasing desire for government regulation. Four years ago, Americans were more willing to accept government intervention than they are today. In 2010, nearly half thought there needed to be more government regulation of banks. Barely a third say that now.

When it comes to controlling banks, there is clear opposition. Only 20% of Americans favor the federal government taking over and controlling banks. Almost three times as many oppose this. One reason may be that many Americans see “big government” as worse than “big business.” 62% regard big government as a bigger threat than big business; just 38% say the opposite.

The Obama Administration wasn’t in office during the 2008 crisis. And while the public does see some improvement in the banking system since then, current officeholders don’t get the credit. Just 35% say the Obama Administration has handled recent banking problems well; half say it has handled them poorly.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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