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Attitude Check

How do Americans feel about the banks?

Frank Newport Feb 9, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: With the foreclosure settlement now in the books, seems a good time to ask what Americans really think about it.

Frank Newport is the editor in chief of Gallup. He’s here every week to talk us for a segment we call Attitude Check — public opinion behind the news. Frank, good to have you back.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So I’m going to take it a little bit sideways today, and ask you to go to the interpolation side of the data you guys collect. We have the news today on the mortgage settlement, we have our conversation last week about how people are feeling about real estate. Given the news of the day, how do we think — how do you, based on your experience, think Americans are going to feel about this deal?

Newport: Well, that’s an excellent question. You know, Kai, sometimes I’m surprised when we actually go out and ask people, we don’t get the answers we think we would get. But I think it’s probably fairly safe to say that Americans will be positive. As you mentioned last week, we talked about the fact that Americans like the idea that the government itself would get involved with helping foreclosed-upon homeowners, and now that we have a settlement where it’s the banks — which are held in fairly low esteem by Americans — are going to have to fork over money and help these foreclosed homeowners, I would say Americans probably think it’s a good thing and are happy it’s going to happen.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you about that line you had about 20 seconds ago, which said that banks are held in low esteem. You guys have data on that, how we feel about the banks?

Newport: We do. In fact, we have a question where we said: How much confidence do you have in banks? It goes all the way back to 1979; at that point, 60 percent of Americans said they had confidence in banks. Now, that’s waxed and waned over the years. In the early 1990s, it fell again, there were some crises then, but then it had been back up to 53 percent as recently as the mid-part of last decade in 2004, saying yeah, we’re confident in banks. And that plummeted again, down to 22 percent, in 2009. And now it’s inched its way back up to 23 percent, which is at the lower end of the range. So Americans don’t have, on a relative basis, a lot of confidence in banks. We also know when we say: ‘Is your image of banks positive or negative?,’ it’s much more negative than it is positive. So banks aren’t doing all that great at the moment.

Ryssdal: Let me very quickly, Frank, turn to the other big story of the day — Greece and the Greek debt deal. You guys have asked people whether they think the European debt problems are going to affect us here in the states. What do they say?

Newport: Yeah, it’s interesting. We put it in context; we gave them four things: Trade relations with China, the financial situation in Europe that you just mentioned, the political situation in Iran and then the U.S. debt being held by other countries — how important is that to you? How concerned are you about the impact of those on the U.S. economy? Very direct question. And actually, the situation in Europe was lower on the list. It was debt, number one; two, the situation in Iran; three, trade relations in China; and fourth on that list, 44 percent of Americans — less than half — say they are very concerned that the financial situation in Europe will affect the U.S. economy.

Ryssdal: But still, 44 percent is not a small number.

Newport: That’s right. Everything is relative, so that is certainly not a small number but nevertheless, certainly not as many Americans concerned about the euro crisis at the moment as they’re concerned, for example, about Iran.

Ryssdal: Iran, yeah. Frank Newport is the editor of chief of Gallup, the segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Here’s their latest data. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: You bet.

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