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From the Magazine: Thursday, January 15, 2009

Americans believe Wall Street’s contributions to the economy are essential, but its leaders rank poorly.

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Even before the market’s recent troubles, confidence in the people running Wall Street was not robust—our first figure (see above) shows that in early 2008 only 11 percent of Americans had a great deal of confidence in them. That puts Wall Street on a par with Congress, the press, organized labor, and law firms. High confidence in Wall Street reached a peak of 30 percent in the halcyon economic days of 1999 and 2000. Around a quarter of those asked in recent years have had hardly any confidence in those running Wall Street. Republicans are slightly more inclined than Democrats to regard the people running Wall Street highly.

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The proportion of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in banks was near a three-decade low in a June 2008 Gallup survey. Of the 16 institutions included in the poll, banking was the only one to suffer a sharp decline in confidence from 2007. Confidence in banks is considerably higher, however, than confidence in Congress.

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Illustrations by Otto Steininger.

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