Economy

Americans' Confidence in Banks Remains at Historical Low

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

However, 58% continue to express confidence in their primary bank

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the Senate considers financial reform legislation, a new Gallup poll shows that Americans' confidence in banks has not returned on Main Street as it has on Wall Street. The percentage of Americans saying they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in U.S. banks is now 20% -- not much different from the 18% of a year ago or the 22% of last summer. Four in 10 Americans currently say they have "very little" confidence in U.S. financial institutions.

Confidence in Banks, 1979-2010 Trend

Gallup has measured banking confidence in various surveys dating to the late 1970s. Since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Americans' confidence has reached new lows, falling below the readings near 30% during the 1990-91 recession that reflected the fallout associated with the savings and loan debacle of the late 1980s.

Most Still Have Confidence in Their Main Bank

While most Americans profess comparatively little confidence in the banking industry, the majority continue to express confidence in their main or primary bank, where they do most of their banking business. As was the case last April, 58% say they have a great deal (31%) or quite a lot (27%) of confidence in their main bank. Only about 1 in 10 Americans express "very little" confidence in their primary bank.

Americans' Confidence in Their Main Bank: 2009-2010 Comparison

Commentary

It should not be surprising that Americans have more confidence in their main or local bank than in the overall banking industry. Such a finding is consistent with what Gallup has found in local vs. national ratings of other areas such as education, healthcare, and crime.

Nor should it be alarming that confidence in banking has not surged back to its previous levels over the past year. Normally, confidence is built or lost slowly, over an extended period. It is likely to take many years before Americans' confidence in the banking industry returns to anything close to its 2006 level of about 50%.

Over the next several months, as Congress debates financial reform and the midterm congressional elections heat up, there will be potential political benefits to be gained by disparaging banks and bankers. Regardless of whether such derision may be deserved, it would be good for all involved to keep in mind that Americans' confidence in banks remains fragile.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 24, 2010, as part of the Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

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