Fewer Americans applauding Fed’s performance, poll suggests
WASHINGTON - The share of Americans who think the Federal Reserve is doing an excellent or good job has sunk, despite chairman Ben Bernanke’s having taken unprecedented steps to try to prevent financial catastrophe, according to a poll released yesterday.
Many analysts credit Bernanke’s unconventional approach with averting disaster last year. But his support for bailouts of big financial firms, such as the insurance giant American International Group, upset the public and many lawmakers.
A Gallup poll conducted in mid-July found that 30 percent of respondents rated the Fed as doing an “excellent/good’’ job. That was down sharply from the 53 percent who thought the Fed was doing an excellent to good job in a survey in 2003, when then-Fed chief Alan Greenspan was steering a fragile economy back from the 2001 recession, terror attacks, and corporate accounting scandals.
The poll asked about nine government agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention topped the list, with 61 percent of respondents rating that agency excellent to good. NASA and the FBI tied for second place at 58 percent each.
The CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, and Food and Drug Administration all earned scores higher than the Fed’s.
The results come at a delicate time for Bernanke. His term expires early next year, and President Obama will have to decide whether to reappoint him to a four-year term.
And lawmakers are wary of expanding the Fed’s powers - as envisioned by the Obama administration - given the failure of the Fed and other regulators to detect problems that led to the financial crisis. The administration wants the Fed to police big financial companies whose failure could endanger the entire economy.
Despite efforts to be more open, the Fed has built a reputation as one of Washington’s most esoteric institutions.
“To many, the Federal Reserve is just a mysterious entity,’’ said Richard Yamarone, an economist at Argus Research.
Also yesterday, the Fed said it is reaching out to Americans to get a more detailed picture of how the country’s economic debacles have affected household finances.
The Fed is taking this step to update the data it collected when the recession was just hitting, in late 2007.
“It may seem that everything that needs to be known about recent economic changes is already known,’’ Bernanke said. “Certainly, we do have excellent data on the overall state of the economy.
“But we would benefit from a more detailed understanding of what has happened across the broad range of types of households. For that, we need to look directly at changes for individual households.’’
To that end, the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago, will attempt to go back and secure interviews with all 4,422 participants in the 2007 survey.
The Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances is usually done every three years. Results from the updated research - which will be conducted July 25 through Dec. 31 - are expected to be available late next year, the Fed said.