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Measuring The Backlash Against Wall Street


Mark Blumenthal collects a lot of the recent public opinion data about Wall Street and the bank bailout and draws some interesting conclusions. The most useful one affirms what I've been hearing from people on the Hill lately, which is that the public would probably support some form of nationalization--so long as we didn't call it that. Here's Mark:

Consider the split-form experiment conducted last month by the USAToday/Gallup poll. They split their interviews into two random samples and asked each a slightly different question (emphasis added):

Do you favor or oppose the federal government temporarily taking over major U.S. banks in danger of failing in an attempt to stabilize them?
-- 54% favor, 44% oppose, 3% no opinion  

Do you favor or oppose federal government temporarily nationalizing major U.S. banks in danger of failing in an attempt to stabilize
-- 37% favor, 57% oppose, 6% no opinion

So when pollsters label the same underlying idea as "nationalization," it receives percentage 17 points less support than when described as a "take over." The word "nationalization" is obviously loaded with more meaning in this context, but might not be a barrier. Consider what happened when Newsweek asked a similar question and combined the verbiage:

Temporary nationalization is another way for the federal government to deal with large banks in danger of failing. This is where the government takes over a failing bank, cleans its balance sheets, and then quickly sells it off. In general, which do YOU think is the better way to deal with failing banks... (READ)
-- 29% Government financial aid WITHOUT any government control of the bank, OR
-- 56% Nationalization, where the government takes temporary control?
-- 15% Neither/Other/don't know

My own view is that temporary seizure is the only way Obama's going to get the support he needs to put more money into the banks. The anger and skepticism out there is just too intense--and justifiably so--for it to be possible without something that feels appropriately punitive (even if that's not really the point) and final (as opposed to the latest in a never-ending series of bailouts).

--Noam Scheiber