Today, the US Chamber of Commerce released a poll it commissioned about the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The results, say the Chamber, prove that Americans don’t much like the new agency. “This poll shows that when the American people learn about the CFPB, they are wary of its broad powers, unaccountability to Congress, and direct funding outside the budget process,” declared David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, which conducted the survey with Harris Interactive.
The poll found that 68 percent of Americans either have not heard about the CFPB, or don’t know much about it. As you might glean from Hirschmann’s comments, the information then helpfully provided by the Chamber wasn’t exactly neutral—the subsequent “questions” (PDF) almost uniformly portray the CFPB in a negative light. Participants were basically asked how they felt about unnecessarily bureaucratic federal agencies with unaccountable leadership and the power to spend a lot of taxpayer money, and they responded accordingly:
These are all highly misleading questions. None of the seven federal agencies with consumer protection responsibilities consider that a priority, and the creation of the CFPB was spurred by the obvious excesses of under-regulated predatory lenders, credit card companies, big Wall Street banks and other bad actors. Also, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, an industry-friendly panel at the Treasury, can overturn CFPB rulings; no other federal agency can have its rules overridden by other regulators. The CFPB must also submit itself to an annual GAO audit, and the director must testify semi-annually before Congress.
It would be easy for proponents of the CFPB to dismiss this poll at a hit by the Chamber and not reflective of actual attitudes about the agency—the Chamber simply fed a lot of bogus information to people about how it works. The problem, however, is that the Chamber and its allies are very good at feeding bogus information to people. The poll does show that most people haven’t yet formed an opinion. The Chamber has its work cut out for it, and its attack lines appear to have traction.
Of course, the participants weren’t given the other side of the story, so it’s very important for the agency’s defenders to make sure the public hears about why the CFPB is necessary. In a result the Chamber didn't include in its press release, their poll showed over a third of Americans (37 percent) support the agency before taking the poll, with 26 percent opposed. (It should be noted that in some other surveys, the support is much higher--a July poll showed 74 percent). But after they answered the Chamber's "questions," opposition jumped up to 50 percent. That should serve as a warning about the effectiveness of the Chamber's attacks, and the urgent need to provide a counter-narrative.