By Alison Fitzgerald
Wall Street firms are recovering—but their standing with the American public is not. The public rage directed at Wall Street banks and brokerages remains at high levels, according to a Bloomberg National Poll of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted on Dec. 3-7 by the Des Moines firm Selzer & Co. Two-thirds of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of financial executives. More than half say big financial companies, which are expected to pay record yearend bonuses, are out only to enrich themselves and also should not have received government aid.
Banks that got taxpayer help through the Troubled Asset Relief Program—the $700 billion financial rescue plan passed by Congress last year—shouldn't pay any bonuses, according to 75% of those polled. And this includes 39% of respondents who say they disapprove of bonuses even when the banks have paid the government back. "The fact that they're even in existence should be bonus enough," says Cassie Swihart, a 58-year-old retired registered nurse from Warsaw, Ind. Adds Elijah Brown, 42, an unemployed union contractor from California: "Why would you want to give somebody a bonus who put us into this situation?" Brown is among the 64% of people who said bailing out banks was a bad idea.
Many large banks have roared back to profitability as the financial markets and broader economy have recovered this year. Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS), and JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) investment banking unit will hand out a combined $29.7 billion in bonuses, according to analysts' estimates. That's a record, beating the $26.8 billion in 2007—and up 60% from last year, when all three banks took billions in support from the Treasury to weather the financial crisis.
The Bloomberg poll also questioned Americans about the Obama Administration's performance, the challenges confronting the economy heading into 2010, and the war in Afghanistan. For the full poll data, go to bx.businessweek.com/obamas-economic-policy/reference/.