"There's a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street."
Barack Obama on Monday, September 20th, 2010 in a town hall meeting
Obama too soft on Wall Street? Public worries about Wall Street's influence
Skeptical voters questioned President Barack Obama about the sluggish economy at a town hall broadcast on CNBC on Sept. 20, 2010.
One of those voters was a hedge fund manager who felt that Obama was being too mean to the financial community.
"Listen, I represent the Wall Street community," the questioner said. "We have felt like a piñata. Maybe you don't feel like you're whacking us with a stick, but we certainly feel like we've been whacked with a stick. So I certainly think that Main Street and Wall Street are connected, and if we're going to heal the society and make the economy better, how are we going to work towards that, healing Wall Street and Main Street?"
Obama replied that he often discusses the connection between Wall Street and Main Street. "We need a vibrant, vital financial sector that is investing in businesses, investing in jobs, investing in our people, providing consumers loans so they can buy products -- all that is very important and we want that to thrive. But we've got to do so in a responsible way," he said.
"Now, I had been amused over the last couple years -- this sense of somehow me beating up on Wall Street -- I think most folks on Main Street feel like they got beat up on," Obama said. "There's a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street," he added. That's probably the majority, not the minority." (We should note that Obama was interrupted by applause during these comments."
We've noticed that some of Obama's political opponents repeatedly say he is anti-business, so we were intrigued by Obama's comment that "there's a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street." So we went out in search of data.
Interestingly, we couldn't find a poll that directly and specifically asked the public whether President Obama had been too soft or too tough on Wall Street.
But we did find one poll that was pretty close. A poll conducted in May 2010 by CBS News asked, "Do you think the financial institutions on Wall Street have too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence on the Obama Administration?"
"Too much," said a resounding majority of 59 percent. After that, 21 percent said they were unsure, while 12 percent said the right amount and 5 percent said too little.
We also found that most Americans favor new financial regulations that Obama signed into law in July. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in August showed 61 percent approved of the legislation, the highest of any of Obama's legislative accomplishments.
Finally, it's worth mentioning Gallup's poll from July that asked the public about its confidence in various institutions. Gallup asked which institutions merited "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence. The presidency garnered 36 percent confidence, while banks got 23 percent and "big business" got 19 percent. (Congress did the worst, with 11 percent.)
But polls can be contradictory, particularly when questions are asked in a different way. So we looked for data that would undermine Obama's claim.
We found one poll that indicated people might be more conflicted about government being tough on Wall Street. A poll from May asked people which of two scenarios they feared more: "that the government will go too far in regulating financial institutions and markets, making it harder for the economy to grow, OR, that the government will not go far enough in regulating financial institutions and markets, leaving the country at risk of another financial crisis?"
Respondents split fairly evenly in this poll from Pew Research and the National Journal: 46 percent worried the government would go too far with financial regulation, while 44 percent worried government wouldn't go far enough. Another 11 percent were unsure, and the margin of error was 4 percent.
But even that fits with Obama's statement that "there's a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street." Obama added, "That's probably the majority, not the minority," but his use of the word probably indicates he's unsure.
Here, we're checking Obama's statement that there's "a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street." We didn't find a lot of polling data on this question. The question that addresses it most closely was whether "the financial institutions on Wall Street have too much influence, too little influence, or the right amount of influence on the Obama Administration." The resounding answer to that was yes, they have too much influence. We rate Obama's statement True.