A majority of Americans believe Wall Street executive compensation is unreasonable, and that bankers fared better than others during the financial crisis, a poll conducted for Reuters shows.
But while Americans may be stewing over outsized pay, they differ about what the Obama Administration should or can do about it, according to the phone poll of 1,000 adults by Ipsos Public Affairs between September 11 and September 14.
Twenty-six percent said the administration was doing about the right amount, 25 percent said it was doing too much and 36 percent said it was doing too little.
While the results show 60 percent of Americans are concerned or angry about excessive pay, Michael Gross, the vice president of Ipsos, said they would still rather see the titans of Wall Street rein in their own paydays than have the government intervene.
He noted that 51 percent think the government has done what it can or done too much to control Wall Street compensation.
My sense is that people don't necessarily see a role for government in this, Gross said. Even though they see it as unreasonable, it isn't necessarily that they want government regulating it.
That might help explain President Obama's absence on the issue in recent months.
After beginning his presidency by criticizing bankers for being paid too much too soon after taxpayers bailed out the industry, Obama has since retreated. He sidestepped the topic in a speech he made on Monday while visiting Wall Street the day before the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
It isn't an easy issue and the Obama Administration is very aware of its complexity, said Lawrence White, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.
Obama's most visible action to date on executive compensation is tapping Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington lawyer, to serve as pay czar. But Feinberg, who has jurisdiction over executive pay at firms like Citigroup Inc and Bank of America Corp, has told Reuters that he has not spoken with the president.
BANKERS DID BETTER
More than 300,000 people have lost jobs in the finance industry since the start of 2008, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement company.
Still, 56 percent of respondents in the poll said bankers fared better than other people during the financial crisis.
White, the NYU business professor, said Wall Street believes its pay is justified despite public sentiment against it.
The big Wall Street view is 'Hey, we work hard, we achieve a lot, and we deserve what we get paid, White said.
But Alan Johnson, a New York-based compensation consultant, said public perception weighs on Wall Street and impacts decisions made in boardrooms.
It does matter, Johnson said. It matters a lot how the American people feel about their financial system.
With the media and politicians criticizing the industry for its compensation packages, Johnson said he had expected the poll results to show that 100 percent of respondents were fed up with Wall Street pay.
As dark and as deep as this problem has been, it is encouraging that people haven't given up on their own thinking, Johnson said.
Among respondents, there was little variation based on income, race, or region about their feelings on executive pay.
By and large, the bulk of groups think the compensation packages are pretty unreasonable, pollster Gross said.