What Could Have Been
I've been saying it for months: Obama should have focused first and foremost on financial reform and jobs in his first half-term. Gallup now validates that. Of the major legislative initiatives passed by the Democrats in this Congress (with little or no GOP support), the only one with widespread public support is the financial reform bill.
The financial reform bill President Obama signed into law in July is the most popular of five major pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the past two years -- in fact, it is the only one tested in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll that a majority of Americans support.
Six in 10 Americans approve of the legislation to strengthen government regulation of the financial industry. By contrast, a majority disapprove of the 2009 economic stimulus package, the auto industry bailout, healthcare reform, and -- most of all -- the 2008 banking industry bailout.
Financial reform does best due to a relatively high level of support from Republicans -- 42% approve of it -- as well as majority support from independents. Independents join Republicans in mostly opposing the other four legislative initiatives tested. Democrats, on the other hand, approve of all five, although to varying degrees.
The final bill wasn't strong enough, because it didn't reinstall Glass-Steagall nor did it go as far as Paul Volcker and others wanted to prevent Wall Street from doing it all again. But a better bill could have been had if Obama invested himself more strongly at the outset of his administration on an actual reform agenda (you know, like his campaign promised). Nonetheless, it should be a lesson to the White House on populism that even a weak bill that goes after Wall Street is more popular than everything else.
And isn't it sad that only 38% of independents support the stimulus bill, or is that a function of their general dissatisfaction with the pace of economic recovery?