Polls Showing Approval of Dodd-Frank Financial Agency Are Highly Misleading

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

Polls Showing Approval of Dodd-Frank Financial Agency Are Highly Misleading

Feb 16, 2017 3 min read
Elizabeth Fender

Director, Marketing

Elizabeth Fender serves as Director of Marketing at The Heritage Foundation.
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA/Newscom

With President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans taking steps to undo Dodd-Frank financial regulations, one agency at the heart of Dodd-Frank has become the object of increased attention.

That agency is known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created by the Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Those trying to dismantle the law claim its complex system of rules and high compliance costs hit small businesses and consumers hardest, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s lending regulations in particular make it hard for Americans to access credit.

Proponents say the move panders to Wall Street and increases the risk of another financial crisis. 

As the debate around it heats up, proponents of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have taken to trumpeting the agency’s popularity even among Trump voters.

One commonly cited poll was conducted by Morning Consult in December 2016 among self-identified Trump voters. It found that a plurality of Trump voters (41 percent) believe the Trump administration should leave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alone.

In addition, 28 percent say either its power should be limited (21 percent) or it should be gotten rid of entirely (7 percent). Fourteen percent think it should be expanded, although even more (17 percent) say they are not sure.

These numbers would seem to support proponents who believe the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is what Americans really need. And what American could oppose an agency with a name like “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau”?

Given the bureau’s relative obscurity, many participants are likely responding based on the name itself. In a key weakness, the poll does not go on to explore Trump voters’ familiarity with or perceptions of the bureau.

But another poll did take a closer look. An annual poll conducted on behalf of Americans for Financial Reform sheds more light on Americans’ views of the bureau.

The poll shows that Americans are relatively unfamiliar with the agency—the majority have no opinion of it (26 percent) or have never heard of it (25 percent). Overall, 37 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the bureau based off the name and what they may already know of it, while 11 percent have an unfavorable view.

The study did not break down results by Trump voters specifically, but it did look at party affiliation. Republicans have a slightly more negative view at 14 percent, although favorability outweighs unfavorability 2-to-1. But it is noteworthy that a good portion of Republicans and Democrats alike have never heard of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (26 percent and 23 percent, respectively).

What happens when people become familiar with the agency? With a bureau this obscure, it largely depends on what information they become familiar with.

One of the most balanced, least biased ways to explore an issue like this is by giving respondents a pro and con statement, and seeing which they align most closely with.

The Americans for Financial Reform poll did this. After presenting respondents with a series of favorable stimuli about the agency—such as its stated mission and giving a few softball questions about protecting consumers from Wall Street—pollsters gave the following statements:

Pro Statement: (Some/other people say) Wall Street and abusive lenders are fighting tooth and nail to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because it works. Irresponsible banking practices caused the last financial crisis, and, left to their own devices, big banks and Wall Street would do the same thing all over again. We need the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] to keep the financial industry from ripping off consumers or tanking the economy.

Con Statement: (Some/other people say) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is another unaccountable, expensive, federal bureaucracy we don’t need. The bureau imposes harsh regulation on small financial businesses lacking resources to manage intrusive government oversight and cuts access to credit. This costs jobs, and impedes economic recovery. The [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] is yet another example of out-of-control, big federal government.

The results show that based off these statements, Republicans are much more evenly divided on the issue. Forty-one percent agree that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau works, while 38 percent say it’s more unaccountable bureaucracy (within the margin of error, plus or minus 5.3 percent).

This more in-depth poll calls into question whether Trump supporters are as supportive of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as many claim. It would be far more accurate to say Americans from all parties don’t really know what the bureau is or what it does.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal