WASHINGTON - More than 40% of the American public believes that racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination play a role in banks' lending decisions, a survey released Wednesday by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found.
Of the 1,200 survey participants, 15% reported that they or someone they knew had been subject to discrimination when applying for a bank loan. Among blacks, the percentage jumped to 32%.
Ninety-four percent of respondents said that banks have a responsibility to serve their communities and to provide equal access to capital and credit to creditworthy borrowers, and 27% supported using fines and penalties to ensure that they do. "We were truly elated about the depth of the belief that financial institutions should treat people fairly and equitably; and that if it means fines and penalties, so be it," said John E. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of the coalition.
In an interview after the press conference, Mr. Taylor said the survey results would be used to show "the media and policymakers that economic justice is an important issue to the American public." Mr. Taylor said the survey should convince opponents that a proposed Federal Reserve regulation that would allow lenders to collect the race and gender of loan applicants is necessary.
Much of the survey involved asking respondents to assess the chances of two equally qualified loan applicants, different only in race or gender, of receiving a loan. Forty-nine percent of respondents said that a white man would be more likely to have his application approved than a black man. Only 9% said the black man would be more likely. When a white man's chances were pitted against a Hispanic man's under the same circumstances, 51% said the white man was more likely to get the loan, compared with only 10% who said the Hispanic man was.
Judith E. Knight, director of the American Bankers Association's Center for Community Development, took issue with the structure of the survey questions. "The study poses either-or questions. It suggests that it has to be one way or the other, when in fact both people might get the loan. In fact, I think they would."
But, she conceded, it did raise some concerns for the ABA. "Perception is important, because for a lot people, perception is reality. So it is a little distressing to see the number of people who believe discriminatory practices are widespread in the banking industry."
The survey was a collaboration between Democratic pollster Jennifer Laszlo and Republican pollster Frank Luntz. It included a nationwide survey of 800 voters, supplemented by additional surveys of 200 black and 200 Hispanic voters. The survey data was supplemented by data from six focus groups conducted across the country.