WASHINGTON (AP) -The share of Americans who think the Federal
Reserve is doing an excellent to good job has sunk even as chairman
Ben Bernanke has taken unprecedented steps to try to prevent a
financial catastrophe, according to a new poll released Monday.
Many analysts credit Bernanke's unconventional approach with
averting disaster last year. But his support of taxpayer bailouts
of big financial firms such as insurance giant American
International Group upset the public and many lawmakers.
The Gallup poll, conducted in mid-July, found that only 30
percent rated the Fed as doing an "excellent/good" job.
It was the lowest such score out of nine government agencies.
And it was down sharply from the 53 percent who thought the Fed was
doing an excellent to good job in a survey in 2003. At that time,
then-Fed chief Alan Greenspan was steering a fragile economy back
from the 2001 recession, terror attacks and corporate accounting
scandals that had rocked Wall Street.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention topped the list
with 61 percent of poll respondents rating that agency excellent to
good. NASA and the FBI tied for second place at 58 percent each.
The CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Food and
Drug Administration all earned scores higher than the Fed's, the
The results come at a delicate time for Bernanke. His term
expires early next year, and President Barack Obama will have to
decide whether to reappoint him to a new four-year term or find a
replacement. Bernanke has been under fire on Capitol Hill for
rescuing AIG to the tune of more than $180 billion.
And he faces skeptical lawmakers wary of expanding the Fed's
powers - as envisioned by the Obama administration - given the
failure of the Fed and other regulators to detect problems that led
to the financial crisis. The administration wants the Fed to police
big financial companies whose failure could endanger the entire
Despite efforts to become more open, the Fed has built a
reputation as one of Washington's most esoteric institutions. "To
many, the Federal Reserve is just a mysterious entity," said
Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.
At a town-hall style meeting with Bernanke on Sunday night, one
of the participants, social worker Gwen Bailey, confessed: "I
don't have a clue what (Fed policymakers) do, how they impact our
The Fed's primary mission is to put the economy and the job
market back on a healthy path and keep inflation low and stable. It
also oversees the safety and soundness of banks.
Bernanke has embarked on an unusually public campaign to reach
out to ordinary Americans to explain the Fed's actions to fight the
longest recession since World War II. His most recent effort
involved fielding questions from America's heartland Sunday night.
"When the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as
well," Bernanke told the town-hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo.,
defending the Fed's action to rescue AIG and other companies deemed
"too big to fail." The meeting will air this week in three
installments on the "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
To revive the economy, the Fed has slashed a key lending rate to
a record low near zero. It's also buying $1.75 trillion in
government bonds, as well as mortgage securities and debt, to try
to drive down rates on mortgages and other consumer debt to spur
"Those were some very long nights I spent on the sofa in my
office as we worked to try to keep the financial system running,"
Bernanke told the town-hall meeting.
The Gallup poll, conducted July 10-12, was based on telephone
interviews of 1,018 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or
minus 3 percentage points.