Confidence in Fed Chair Hits Highest Point Since Greenspan Era

(Bloomberg) -- Americans’ confidence in the Federal Reserve’s leadership reached a 15-year high as the central bank moved aggressively to counter the crippling economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A combined 58% of respondents said they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell would do or recommend the right thing for the economy, according to an April 1-14 survey by Gallup.

Confidence in Fed Chair Hits Highest Point Since Greenspan Era

Powell fared better than President Donald Trump -- who has repeatedly criticized the Fed chair -- as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the congressional leadership of both parties. Among options provided by the survey, respondents ranked only their own governors more highly than the Fed chairman.

The last time respondents were this confident in the head of the U.S. central bank was 2004, when 61% were upbeat about Alan Greenspan. The annual series dates back to 2001, the year Greenspan had his highest rating at 74%.

After that, the standing of the country’s senior central banker declined for several years. It was hurt by a recession in 2001 and then severely damaged by the global financial crisis and Great Recession that followed under Ben Bernanke, when the unemployment rate climbed to 10%. Confidence bottomed in Janet Yellen’s first year on the job in 2014 at 37%.

Confidence in Fed Chair Hits Highest Point Since Greenspan Era

Powell’s rating has jumped dramatically since he took over in February 2018. This year’s survey was conducted just as the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic was becoming more apparent. In the three weeks ended April 10, four days before the survey closed, nearly 19 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. The S&P 500 had also already suffered, and partly recovered from, a 34% decline from its peak in February.

The Fed has responded to the crisis with gusto, unveiling nine emergency programs aimed at stabilizing financial markets and providing relief directly to some companies, as well as state and local governments. Powell pledged in an April 9 speech to use the Fed’s powers “forcefully, proactively, and aggressively until we are confident that we are solidly on the road to recovery.”

Powell’s confidence ratings appear unscathed by almost two years of steady attacks from Trump. The president had repeatedly blasted Powell over the central bank’s interest-rate decisions. Trump at one point asked in a tweet, “Who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” referring to China’s President Xi Jinping.

Only very recently, after the Fed lowered rates to zero and took extraordinary actions to bolster financial markets, has Trump praised Powell.

The survey was based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,017 adults living in the 50 U.S. states and District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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