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Wall Street remains highly unpopular five years after crisis

Americans continue to overwhelmingly dislike and distrust Wall Street five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Forty two percent said they have a negative view of the New York financial institutions while just 14 percent have a favorable opinion.  The remainder of respondents had either a neutral view or no opinion.  That is the lowest rating of any institution included in the poll.  In comparison, 45 percent view President Barack Obama favorably while 25 percent expressed the same about the Tea Party.

The antipathy remains high despite record gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of more than 15,000 points, which is 3,000 points above than where it was when the market began its decline in 2008.

Still, a majority of Americans – 52 percent – continue to say they have been either greatly or somewhat affected by Wall Street crises and the housing market over the last three to five years. That’s just seven points lower than in the immediate aftermath of the financial collapse in October of  2008.

Read the full poll here (.pdf)

Americans also remain deeply pessimistic about the state of the economy. Just 27 percent think the economy will get better in the next year, while almost half of the country – 48 percent – thinks it will be about the same, the lowest since July of last year.

Despite months of slowly improving economic data, a majority – 52 percent – disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, his worst rating since August of 2012.

Part of this is likely because of the disconnect between Wall Street and the job market. Recovery in the job market has happened at a much slower pace than the gains on Wall Street.

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Activists march to the U.S. Justice Department as they participate in a protest May 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Homeowners and activists from Home Defenders League and Occupy Homes joined the protest to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder "hold Wall Street Banks that ravaged America's economy accountable."

After the financial collapse of 2008, the jobless rate spiked to 10 percent a year later – eight months after Obama took office. Four years later, that rate stands at 7.3 percent – a decline, but not back to the pre-economic meltdown levels of unemployment in the five percent range.

There was a small spike in economic optimism just before the last presidential election. In October 2012, a high of 45 percent said the economy would get better in the next 12 months. But nearly a year later and with the election season over, nonpartisan pessimism is back.

With the top 1 percent taking home more money than at any time since 1928, there is also evidence in the poll of the widening income inequality gap. More Americans consider themselves poor than 15 years ago, the last time the question was asked -- in boom economic times.

Twelve percent consider themselves poor compared to just seven percent who said so in 1998.  And there are more people saying they make less than $30,000 a year – nine percent now versus five percent in 1998.  But adjusting for inflation, an annual $30,000 today is equivalent to making just $21,000 in 1998.

There are also more people saying they make at least $75,000 a year or more – nearly 25 percent say they make at least that much now, versus nine percent who said so in 1998.  When inflation is figured in, one would have to make at least $107,000 to have the same buying power as someone who made $75,000 15 years ago.

There also seems to be a relative lack of confidence that those in the poor or working class will rise up out of their situation and into the middle class. Twenty nine percent of those Americans  say they think it’s at least fairly likely they will become middle class in the next five to seven years. In 1998, in better economic times, 36 percent said so.

Just 19 percent of those in the middle class said they thought it was likely they would fall out. (That question was not asked in 1998.)

Republicans can take some solace in the fact that they have gotten a bit of an economic bounce with the economy still struggling and President Obama seeing his economic disapproval numbers on the rise.

The GOP now has a 33 to 29 percent advantage over Democrats in which party’s seen as better to deal with the economy. That’s a reversal from February – the last time the question was asked – when Democrats held a 2-point advantage.  Before February, Republicans had led on this question since Aug. 2010.

Republicans also have a 13-point advantage on dealing with the federal deficit – 35 to 22 percent. That’s a 7-point increase from February. Republicans have led on that question through almost Obama’s entire presidency, dating back to July 2009.

In Jan. 2008, just as the stock market was beginning its decline – and George W. Bush was still president, presiding over a ballooning federal deficit because of two unfunded wars – Democrats held a whopping 22-point advantage. They were favored on the deficit for five years before that. Now, that advantage is gone.

But Democrats continue to be seen as the party that is most looking out for the middle class. They lead on the question by 17 points and have led on it all the way back to 1989 when it was first asked – although this was the narrowest margin in the poll.

Still, Democrats dominate when people are asked who best represents the values of the middle class. Democratic strategist and Bill Clinton adviser James Carville coined the phrase, “The economy, stupid.” And the ex-Democratic president tops the list of those who Americans say best represents the middle class -- 48 percent said so.

By contrast, just 23 percent say the Republican Party represents the middle class and 22 percent say so of the Tea Party.

“The Republican Party is not on the playing field in terms of who’s being considered as representing the values of the middle class,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “That is fundamental positioning problem.”

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