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Public Shows Wariness About Wall Street

Nearly three years after the financial crisis that sent the nation’s economy into a tailspin, the public expresses mixed views of Wall Street. Almost half of Americans (47%) say that Wall Street hurts the U.S. economy more than it helps, while 38% say it helps more than hurts; 15% offer no opinion.

These findings, from Pew Research’s Political Typology survey released in May 2011, are consistent with past surveys showing public ambivalence about Wall Street. In April 2009, shortly after the financial meltdown, a large majority (63%) said that Wall Street made an important contribution to the economy, but about as many (67%) said that Wall Street cared only about making money for itself.

Views of Wall Street do not divide cleanly along partisan and ideological lines. Staunch Conservatives are strongly anti-government and pro-business; a large majority (72%) agrees with the Tea Party. Yet Staunch Conservatives express only modest support for Wall Street: 48% say it helps the economy more than hurts it, while 39% say it hurts more than helps.

The other core Republican group – Main Street Republicans – are more negative about Wall Street’s impact on the economy; just 36% say it helps more than it hurts, while 45% say the opposite. Main Street Republicans are socially and fiscally conservative, but are much more skeptical of business than are Staunch Conservatives.

The most positive opinions about Wall Street’s impact are seen among two groups in the middle of the typology. Majorities of Libertarians and Post-Moderns (56% each) say Wall Street helps the economy more than it hurts it. While Libertarians lean toward the Republican Party, and Post-Moderns lean Democratic, both groups are well-educated and affluent.

New Coalition Democrats, who also have relatively low family incomes but are financially optimistic, are divided: 39% say Wall Street helps the economy more than it hurts it, while 32% say it does more to hurt the economy. Solid Liberals, who are strongly pro-government and critical of business, express negative views of Wall Street. About six-in-ten (59%) say that Wall Street does more to hurt the economy, while 32% say it helps the economy more than hurts it.Go to the typology report for definitions of each of the political subgroups named here. Read More