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

The 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse left a lasting mark on the public and shaken the confidence in the country's ability to avoid another one. More than six in 10 Americans are not confident that the country will be able to avoid another crisis and believe Wall Street and Washington have not done enough to thwart another collapse.

By Scott Clement
Monday, September 16
Washington Post

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

More than six in 10 Americans are not confident that the country will be able to avoid another crisis, with big majorities saying Washington and Wall Street have not done enough to thwart another collapse.

The pessimistic outlook is colored by a dour take on progress: 54 percent of Americans 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 on protecting against a repeat of 2008.

Majorities across the partisan spectrum say government and banks have not taken necessary steps to stop a future crisis, although Republicans are far more critical of government’s role than Democrats. Fully 79 percent of Republicans say the federal government has not taken adequate measures to stop another crisis, 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 making efforts to prevent another financial crisis.

In a speech marking the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis, President Obama acknowledged that not enough had 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,” Obama 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.”

He also 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. At 51 percent disapproval, his rating for handling the economy continues to tilt negative after a brief visit to positive territory in December and January. But Obama maintains a slight, 44-to-38 percent edge over Republicans in Congress on trust 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”), an even larger 77 percent of Republicans see little or no improvement in economic conditions.

While Democrats sense a more robust recovery, 52 percent still lack confidence in the 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.

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