Published June 19, 2012
This November, more Americans will be casting a vote for their wallets. A new study by Bankrate shows that six out of every 10 Americans consider the state of their personal finances to be of paramount importance this election season. In the study, 12% of people feel their personal finance situation is the single most important factor they'll consider before heading to the polls, while nearly half-- 47%-- say that their financial situation was one of the most important factors they'd consider before casting a vote.
"So many companies have outsourced and downsized and gotten rid of pensions that people are beyond worried. It makes sense that they're looking for the candidate that's going to give them the most bang for their buck in terms of saving abilities," says Barbara Walker Green, managing partner with Advance Wealth and retirement Planning Concepts, registered investment advisor in Houston Texas.
Americans are evenly split on which candidate they think will deliver the most financial security. According to the survey, 21% say President Barack Obama will be best for their wallets and 21% believe Republican Mitt Romney will improve their finances.
However, the majority of people--50%-- say it doesn't matter who is in the White House.
"I think most people know that even though the candidates may have the best of intentions, they do not have control; they are just the front person," says Claes Bell, spokesperson for Bankrate.com and author of the study. "Unfortunately, what we came away with is there is deep pessimism out there. We're now into the fifth year of this really intense economic downturn that's been through two administrations. There's a lot of cynicism that either candidate can really make a difference."
By the same token, Bell says that the American people are looking for a candidate who can "get America going again," and that neither candidate has really stepped to the forefront to distinguish themselves as being able to better handle the economy.
Interestingly, Bankrate.com has found a correlation between the financial security index (how people feel about their finances) and the presidential approval rating. Come election day, the state of the economy could make a big impact on how people vote, says Bell.
"We found a strong connection between the financial security index and the presidential approval rating-- they move in concert," says Bell. "If we see an improvement in the way people are feeling about their finances right before the election, it's going to be good for incumbent. If there's a downturn, then it's good for Romney."
Some of the most concerned voters out there may be those in or nearing
retirement, says Green, who says that many of her clients are concerned about the prospect of inflation and that what they've saved will still hold its value in 20 years' time.
"People are worried because they don't know what they don't know," says Green. "That's the scary part-- not understanding what your options are," says Green. "The candidates are talking above everyones' heads right now, and they need to put things into terms that the average American can relate to."
Both candidates are focused too much on tax issues and not enough on issues like personal finance and retirement.
"The candidates keep talking about taxation, but only the people who make $250,000 and higher are worried about taxation," Green says. "The average working person makes less than $100,000 a year, and honestly, they don't have a huge tax problem. Most people want to hear about the fate of Social Security, inflation and the cost of groceries."
As the election nears, more Americans are likely to put their finances at the forefront of their concerns, says Ken Kamen, president of Mercadien Asset Management in Hamilton, N.J.
"I'm surprised that 10 out of 10 Americans didn't put their personal finances on the top of their list of concerns," says Kamen. "Because other than health, what have you got? Money is the fuel that allows people to exist in society, and these days everyone is thinking about it. I would guess that as the election approaches and the worldwide headlines continue to scream about anxiety over money, it's going to be a much bigger focus come November."
Voters who were alive and working during the 70s are probably some of the most nervous headed into the election, as they remember when mortgage rates stood at 12% and inflation was "off-the-charts high," says Kamen.
"The threat of inflation looms larger than it has at any other point since the 1970s, and those who have been on this merry-go-round before are nervous, and nervous for their children. They're worried about the buying power of their money, and they should be. All history and logic say it's going to be a problem."
Candidates should keep in mind that for many Americans, the "little things" are what really matter right now, says Kamen.
"Today, you go into the bank where you're getting a 4% return on your CD, and then you see there's a $5 monthly fee on your account, and suddenly you realize you're paying the bank to hold your money," Kamen says. "In this economic environment, everything is heightened, and these tiny things make a big difference to a lot of Americans. That is what they're concerned about, and that is what needs to be addressed."