Poll: 91% Voter Support For Financial Privacy Initiative

Media Contact:
Richard Holober
Consumer Federation of California
PO Box 981
Millbrae, CA 94030
(650) 589-3135 work, (650) 307-7033 mobile


A public opinion poll commissioned by the Consumer Federation of California Education Foundation found overwhelming voter support for a ballot initiative to protect the privacy of consumer financial information. After hearing a battery of arguments against the initiative, voter support stood at 91 per cent. The poll found no significant difference in support by party affiliation or income level.

The statewide poll of 426 frequent voters found that a strong majority does not want banks and financial institutions to share their personal information without permission with third parties, or with their own affiliates. Seventy four per cent favored an initiative component that would expressly prohibit information sharing without customer permission within a company's family of affiliates or subsidiaries.

Sixty seven per cent of voters surveyed rated financial privacy a major or important concern. "Californians want consumers to control the sharing of private financial information", commented Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California Education Foundation. "Voters reject the banks' arguments against financial privacy. The data suggests that a strong privacy initiative would withstand a massive 'vote no' campaign funded by banks, insurance companies and other financial interests".

Privacy of personal financial information became a national issue following passage of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, a 1999 federal law that allowed banks, insurers and securities companies to merge. Federal law gives consumers a very modest right to limit sharing of personal information between financial corporations and non-financial third parties. Gramm Leach Bliley allows states to enact more protective privacy laws. For the past three years, California state lawmakers have introduced bills giving consumers greater control over information sharing. In 2001 and 2002, a coalition of Business Democrats and Republicans defeated SB 773 (Speier) on the Assembly floor. In 2003, the legislature will consider a new financial privacy bill (SB 1 Speier).

Fingerhut Granados Opinion Research, a Washington DC polling firm, conducted the poll in mid January 2003. Vic Fingerhut is a leading national public opinion consultant. Fingerhut has polled extensively on California issues, including several state ballot measures.

The CFC Education Foundation poll was made possible by a grant from the Rose Foundation.

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TO: Consumer Federation of California Education Foundation
FROM: Vic Fingerhut, President
SUBJ: Findings of Statewide Survey on Financial Privacy Issues
DATE: February 7, 2003

California voters are very concerned about their financial privacy and overwhelmingly favor strong measures to protect that privacy.

A recently-completed statewide survey indicated that - by a massive 91-7 percent margin - regular California voters would favor a proposition that "would require a bank, a credit card company, insurance company, or other financial institution to notify a customer and receive a customer's permission before selling any financial information to any separate financial or non-financial company." Voters registered this level of support after hearing a battery of arguments against the initiative.

Support for the measure was widespread throughout all regions of the state, and among persons of all political and demographic groupings.

(The level of support for such a law among key groupings in the state can be seen in Appendix A.)

Attitudes Toward Specific Features of a Privacy Protection Law

Besides indicating support for the general idea of a law that would limit the sharing of personal financial date by various financial institutions, the survey explored voters' reaction to a variety of specific features of such a law.

The pattern of results here was as follows:

By a 73-point, 85-12 percent margin, California voters said they would favor (74 percent would "strongly favor") the measure if it would "prohibit banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions from sharing customers' personal financial information with any separate companies without the customer's permission."

By a 51-point, 74-23 percent margin, voters would favor the measure if it would "prohibit banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions from sharing customers' personal financial information with its own subsidiary companies without the customer's permission."

Support for Privacy Law Strongly Held - Resists Negative Arguments

To test whether initial support for the idea of a law protecting the privacy of their financial information from unauthorized disclosure by banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions was deeply held - or just a shallow initial response, the survey exposed the respondents to an extensive barrage of negative arguments challenging the need, utility and wisdom of such a law.

Interestingly, by margins averaging over 2-1, California voters rejected - among others - arguments asserting that.

*If banks and other financial institutions were no longer allowed to share financial information, it would increase the cost of doing business, which would increase costs to consumers for financial products.

*If we pass a law that says banks and credit card companies cannot share information on your personal financial situation, then it will be much harder to use credit cards when you are trying to purchase something...in fact, such a law may make it impossible to get money from an ATM at a bank other than the one you actually use...and that will be a great inconvenience for many people.

*In practice, the measure will really hurt those businesses who will be unable to obtain or cannot afford needed credit information - and that means small businesses will be the ones who get hurt.

*An initiative restricting bank and financial companies' information sharing is the latest in a series of anti-business California regulations, that keep more and more companies from coming to our state.

After hearing these and many other negative arguments, support for such privacy protection remained remarkably strong, holding above the 90 percent level (91-7%)!

Californians Indicate Many Reasons for Supporting Tough Privacy Protection Laws

The survey indicated that California voters were concerned about the threat to the privacy of their personal financial information for a variety of reasons.

Some measure of the variety of their concerns can be seen in their responses to some of the arguments advanced to support such a measure.

Thus, by a margin of 90-7, Californians indicated that they agreed (60 percent "agreed a lot") that "the sharing or selling of personal information is way out of control. This initiative will send a message to the banks that consumers are fed up with the invasion of our privacy."

Californians also agreed - by a 83-13 percent margin - that "businesses and other groups already know too much about people's personal financial situation -- any law that makes it more difficult to further spread such information is a good idea."

And further, by an overwhelming 81-12 percent margin, California voters agreed that "the laws that are currently supposed to protect our personal financial information from being shared without our permission are just too weak...and we need tougher laws to ensure that our financial privacy is protected."

Survey Findings Reflect Fundamental Attitudes and Concerns of Californians

The survey findings - as found in both responses to test arguments and volunteered comments in open-ended questions - indicated that Californians' support for a tough law protecting their financial privacy is grounded in some fundamental attitudes and concerns.

Attitudinally, Californians strongly believe that financial information about themselves belongs to themselves and no one else.

Asked why they supported an initiative requiring banks and other financial institutions to seek the customer's permission before sharing their personal financial information with any other business, the most frequently volunteered responses were:

- one's financial information should be private

- it's no one else's business (!)

- I should have control over my personal financial information

Expectations about the Political Parties on the Privacy Issue

Asked which party - the Democrats or Republicans - was more likely to be behind an initiative to limit the sharing or selling of personal financial information by banks, credit card companies, insurance companies or other financial institutions, Californians said "Democrats" over "Republicans" by a 46-25 percent margin. The remainder were either unsure or said neither party would do it.


The survey was conducted in the second week of January 2003. Interviewed were a random statewide sample of 426 Californians who were regular participants in both primary and general elections. The margin of error is plus or minus five percent.

Appendix A


"Support/Opposition to a proposition that -- if passed -- would require a bank, credit card company, insurance company or other financial institution to notify a customer and receive that customer's permission before selling any financial information to any separate financial or non-financial company."

Group Strongly Support Somewhat Support Somewhat Oppose Strongly Oppose Total Margin TOTAL 71 20  4 391-7 +84 Men 69 22 4 3 91-7 +84 Women 74 18 3 3 92-6 +82   By Age   18-39 71 19 6 2 90-8 +82 40-49 64 26 6290-8 +82 50-65 73 18 3 5 91-8 +83 65+ 75 17 1 2 92-3 +89   By Party ID   Democrat 77 19 2 1 96-3 +93 Republican69 19 5 4 88-9 +79 Independent 69 21 3 1 90-4 +86