Washington to blame more than Wall Street for economy
October 18, 2011
By: Rick Hampson
Most Americans blame Wall Street for the nation’s economic predicament — but they blame Washington more.
And in the democracy that fancies itself the capital of capitalism, more than four in 10 people describe the U.S. economic system as personally unfair to them. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last weekend, as the Occupy Wall Street protest movement completed its first month, found that:
•When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy, 64% of Americans name the federal government and 30% say big financial institutions.
•Only 54% say the economic system is personally fair to them; 44% say it is not.
•78% say Wall Street bears a great deal or a fair amount of blame for the economy; 87% say the same about Washington.
The poll shows that most Americans are paying attention to the protest movement. But most don’t know enough to take a position. Even among those who have followed the protests closely, 43% don’t know enough to say whether they support or oppose the movement’s goals.
About a quarter of poll respondents describe themselves as supporters of the movement; 19% call themselves opponents.
“You see the frustration that there’s some serious things wrong with capitalism in America, but you also see the conundrum — how do we change it?” says Terry Madonna, a political analyst and polling expert at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “This crisis coincides with a huge debate over the role of government.” He says some of the 64% who place primary blame on Washington fault it for too little government regulation, while others blame it for too much regulation.
Support for the Tea Party movement and its conservative agenda is roughly the same as Occupy Wall Street’s, the poll found. About a fifth of Americans (22%) describe themselves as Tea Party supporters and 27% as opponents. Almost half (47%) say they’re neither.
Asked what the wealthiest 1% of Americans — the ones excoriated by Occupy Wall Street —should pay in taxes as a percentage of their income, more than a quarter of people — 28% — have no opinion. Another 21% say the richest should pay 10% or less, and only 18% say they should pay more than 30%.
Among those asked about the fairness of the economic system, 49% of people without a college degree call it unfair, while 34% of college graduates do. Also, women are slightly more likely than men to call the system unfair. Sorted by political affiliation, 38% of Republicans say the system is unfair, compared with 44% of Democrats and 49% of independents.
On whom to blame for the economy, only one educational group — people with some post-graduate schooling — were more likely to blame Wall Street instead of Washington. All others — college grads, people with some college, people who never went to college — pointed more at Washington.
A recent report for Congress concluded that households that report earning more than $1 million a year pay, on average, about 30% of their income in federal taxes; households earning less than $100,000 pay closer to 19%.
But averages don’t tell the whole story. The study, by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, also found that 94,500 of those $1 million households paid a lower share of their income in taxes in 2006 (the year of the study) than 10.4 million taxpayers who made less than $100,000 a year.
Occupy Wall Street was born a month ago when protesters from various backgrounds gathered in a park near the World Trade Center site in New York City to protest what they called large financial institutions’ ruinous business practices and unfair political influence.
The phenomenon quickly spread across the nation and continued to grow last weekend as hundreds of thousands of people rallied around the world and encampments like the one in Lower Manhattan continued to pop up.
For the most part, the protest action remains loosely organized, without specific demands. The protesters say they hope to build on momentum gained from Saturday’s demonstrations.
The movement has become a political issue, with politicians from both parties weighing in — or under pressure to do so. President Obama referred to the protests at Sunday’s dedication of a monument for Martin Luther King Jr., saying the civil rights leader “would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has accused the protesters of “class warfare.”