WASHINGTON - Flexing its political muscle, the Credit Union National Association on Tuesday released a survey showing that active credit union members compose 21% of the electorate and that they could be important swing voters in the fall elections.

"The data suggest that we have a very, very powerful voice, that credit unions pack a very solid political punch, and that credit unions come to the table with quite a bit of credibility and trust" among Americans in general, CUNA president and chief executive officer Daniel A. Mica said at a news conference.

The trade group hired pollsters from both major political parties, Voter/Consumer Research, which is identified with the Republican Party, and Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, which works for the Democrats, to gauge the strength of the credit union industry's grass roots. In a national survey of 1,004 registered likely voters that was conducted from Feb. 1 through 5, the firms found that 41% say they belong to credit unions and that 21% consider a credit union their primary financial institution. The 78 million credit union members nationwide generally reflect the demographics and political affiliations of the voting public, except they are more likely to be men and college graduates.

Like other polls, the survey predicted a too-close-to-call contest for control of the House. Active credit union members were nearly split in their choices for House seats, with 31% supporting Republicans and 29% backing Democrats. Forty percent were undecided.

"Credit union members are a big proportion of the population," Democratic pollster Fred Yang said, "They really don't have a preference right now in terms of partisanship. They are true a swing voting bloc" in the congressional elections.

The pollsters say they expect active credit union members to remember which incumbents have voted in their favor and to pay close how the candidates stand on current issues. Nearly 70% of those surveyed said they would back lawmakers who voted in support of credit union issues.

Industry officials said they will use the results to lobby in favor of bankruptcy reform and other issues. According to the survey, 87% of credit union members favor requiring bankruptcy filers to pay some of their debts.

The strength of credit unions on Capitol Hill is not news to the banking industry. Nonprofit credit unions won a hard-fought legislative battle in 1998 to loosen their membership rules.

Yet Mr. Mica said CUNA is trying to get credit union members to stay politically involved so the industry will be well-positioned for its next big legislative fight. And he said the survey bolsters the group's attempt to position itself as a voice not only for credit union members but for consumers in general that could rival the American Association of Retired Persons or the AFL-CIO.

He noted that 73% of those surveyed held credit unions in high esteem, 67% approve of their tax-exempt status, and that many consider the industry an unbiased source on financial issues.

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