The Washington Post

Poll: Americans say Washington, Wall Street haven’t done enough to thwart financial crises

The 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse and ensuing financial cataclysm have left a lasting mark on the public and shaken confidence in the country’s ability to avoid another crisis, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than six in 10 Americans say they are not confident that the country will be able to avoid another collapse, with a majority saying Washington and Wall Street have not done enough to thwart one.

The pessimistic outlook is colored by a dour take on progress: 54 percent of Americans say they sense little or no economic improvement since the worst of the financial crisis, and only one in 10 believe the economy is “a great deal” better. Despite sweeping action by lawmakers and the Federal Reserve to stabilize markets and banks, roughly two-thirds say the federal government has not taken adequate measures to prevent another crisis. Almost as many, 62 percent, say U.S. banks and financial institutions have fallen short in protecting against a repeat of what happened in 2008.

A majority, across the partisan spectrum, say government and banks have not taken necessary steps to stop a future crisis, though Republicans were far more critical of government’s role than Democrats. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans say the federal government has not taken adequate measures, compared with 55 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents. By contrast, roughly six in 10 Democrats and Republicans alike view banks as delinquent in their prevention efforts.

In a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, President Obama acknowledged that not enough has been done to lift the middle class.

“We’ve cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis, and we’ve begun to lay a new foundation for economic growth and prosperity,” he said. “But that’s not the end of the story. As any middle-class family will tell you or anybody who’s striving to get into the middle class, we are not yet where we need to be.”

In addition, Obama chided Republicans for threatening to create another crisis over government spending. Unless Congress acts, the government could shut down Sept. 30. Separately, the Treasury could run out of cash to pay its bills as soon as Oct. 18, unless Congress raises the government’s limits on borrowing.

“This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis,” he said.

Yet Obama himself is in a weakened position. His approval rating for his handling of the economy continues to tilt negative, at 51 percent, after a brief visit to positive territory in December and January. But Obama maintains a 44 to 38 percent edge over Republicans in Congress on who is trusted more to handle economic matters, an advantage he has maintained throughout most of his time in office.

Looking back five years, Americans of differing political and economic viewpoints see today’s economy in vastly different lights. Nearly six in 10 of those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more say the economy has improved a great deal or somewhat, compared with less than four in 10 of those earning less than $50,000. And while two in three Democrats see significant improvement since the collapse (67 percent say the economy has improved “a great deal” or “somewhat”), 77 percent of Republicans see little or no improvement.

While Democrats sense a more robust recovery, 52 percent still lack confidence in the country’s ability to avoid another crisis. That rises to 73 percent for Republicans and 61 percent for independents.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 12-15 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, including interviews with land-line and cellphone-only respondents. The overall results have a margin of error of four percentage points.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Scott Clement is the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.

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