Republicans do the bidding of Wall Street at their own peril.
That is the message of a new poll that I helped conduct around financial reform and consumer protection last month, but it's a message I fear Republican lawmakers are missing as they push deregulation of the financial services industry.
Republican voters -- in line with the mood of the country -- believe in the importance of tough, effective enforcement of the rules on Wall Street. They don't like predatory lending, or banks that deny Americans their day in court. And they get nervous when their elected officials start messing with the reforms Congress passed after the financial crisis in 2008.
The House majority muscled through a big rollback of those reforms in June, and Senate Republicans are looking for legislation they can pass. They may also aim to attach changes to must-pass spending bills in the coming months. Many of them are currently trying to roll back a regulation approved by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would ensure Americans' right to sue their banks and other lenders by ending a practiced known as forced arbitration.
They should consider the politics here. The recent presidential election gave us a look at the furious sentiment much of the country has when it comes to Wall Street. So some of our poll results shouldn't be a surprise.
Still, even I was surprised by the extent to which Republican voters want the government to train a wary eye on the financial services industry.
Fully 67 percent of Republicans want additional, tougher rules on Wall Street, according to the poll, conducted among likely voters last month by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting on behalf of Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending. Only 19 percent want to avoid further regulation.
In a striking disconnect between Republican lawmakers and their voters, the survey revealed that the rank-and-file are big fans of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency Congress created in 2011. We found that 66 percent of Republican voters support its mission.
Most notably in our era of intensely partisan politics, Republican voters feel strongly about these issues even though they've got an unmistakably Democratic whiff about them. We'd expect that the traditional Republican aversion to new rules on business would dampen their enthusiasm for tough rules. Not so.
And the consumer bureau has a strong association with liberal Democratic firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But Republican voters like the agency anyway.
At the same time, Republican voters aren't convinced the federal government can bring Wall Street to heel. We found 62 percent of them feel Wall Street's influence in Washington is too high, and only 23 percent think that's changed with a new administration. With so many Goldman Sachs alumni taking on high-ranking government positions, it's no wonder.
This association can easily rub off on members of Congress. Half of all Republican voters we surveyed said they'd be less likely to support a candidate that took money from the financial services industry, or voted for bills the industry supports.
You might also be surprised -- I was -- at the extent to which Republican voters have a distaste for certain industry practices that their Washington lawmakers are wont to defend.
Ever heard of payday lending? This high-interest, short-term lending is legal in about half the states. Republican voters -- 73 percent! -- support a new regulation that would require lenders to simply verify if someone can pay back loans. Many state Republican officials, hearing the people's voice, have advocated similar rules.
How about forced arbitration? This fine print in your checking account contract or credit card agreement that robs you of your right to go to court in certain circumstances if you have been defrauded by your bank. It doesn't go down well with Republicans, who also back a new consumer bureau rule banning forced arbitration.
Republicans who once cast a skeptical eye on big finance became defenders of Wall Street in Congress. The story of how it happened is a long one, with twists and turns that need not have ended where we are. But they did. With the evidence, polling and electoral, pointing toward an American public that wants to see a firm hand on Wall Street, Republicans would be well-advised to get on the right side of history.
Robert Carpenter is a longtime Republican pollster and founder of Chesapeake Beach Consulting.
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