Poll: Bipartisan backing for breaking up big banks

A new poll from a left-leaning group finds broad support for breaking up the nation’s largest financial institutions, among other curbs on Wall Street.

The survey found both Republicans and Democrats were more likely to support proposals cracking down on the financial sector than oppose them. For example, 61 percent of Democrats backed breaking up financial institutions deemed “too big to fail.” When asked the same question, 47 percent of Republicans supported the idea, while just 31 percent opposed it.

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The poll suggests that even as the economy recovers, there remains a stubborn populist streak among voters in both parties, and the financial sector remains a popular target for that populism.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama will unveil a host of tax proposals aimed at providing middle-class relief while increasing taxes on the wealthy. Among the ideas he will push is a new tax specifically assessed on the nation’s largest financial institutions.

The idea of breaking up the nation’s biggest banks has persisted in Washington as well, as some members of both parties have pushed to make it happen. But the industry has resisted such efforts, and it appears unlikely such proposals would gain significant new steam in a GOP-controlled Congress.

In response to the poll, industry representatives pushed back on the notion that big banks should be downsized by the government.

Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the Financial Services Forum, argued that large financial institutions are an "essential element" of the financial market. Their size and structure allows them to service the nation's largest, most complex companies, he said, and the U.S. is better off for it.

The Forum represents the heads of the nation's largest financial institutions.

"To be a global financial leader, the United States needs institutions of all sizes, business models, and areas of expertise," he said.

Other topics that garnered a plurality of support from both parties included assessing a new tax on financial transactions, reestablishing the Glass-Steagall Act to separate traditional banking from investment banking, and allowing post offices to provide basic banking services and competition for the industry.

One proposal, barring banks from deducting the costs of paying government fines from their taxes, actually garnered wider support from Republicans than Democrats, 70 percent to 64 percent, respectively.

The findings came from a broader poll conducted by GBA Strategies for the Progressive Change Institute, which surveyed 1,500 likely voters on a range of proposal ideas.

This post updated at 2:42 p.m.