Some issues like terrorism, health care and education are key topics from election to election, but signs are mounting daily that a new subject – financial security – will be central to next year’s presidential race.
Layoffs, mortgage anxieties and wild financial markets are now staples on the evening news, contributing to trepidation at a time when large majorities of voters have long said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Later today, AARP plans to release a “Divided We Fail” survey of a total of 5,000 of its members in five early voting states, and the data suggest that the candidates will be talking an awful lot about financial security, including savings, Social Security and pensions.
Half of those polled were Democrats and half of them were Republicans.
More than 9 in 10 of the potential caucus-goers or primary voters said financial security will be important to their votes, and between half and three-quarters called it “very” important. The survey is by Divided We Fail, a project of AARP, the Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union.
The poll covers New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada, where AARP has a combined 4 million members. AARP will call attention to the results by holding events in each of the states on Thursday.
This seeming perfect storm of financial unease has already prompted some candidates and members of Congress to address the issue. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has long made economic populism a central issue in his speeches and has a “predatory mortgages” policy.
However, the prominence of the issue has drawn attention his campaign did not want to a private equity fund for which he worked until last year. This week, The Wall Street Journal reported on 34 New Orleans homeowners who have faced foreclosure suits from units of the fund.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has a “Protecting the Dream of Home Ownership” plan that calls for the government to crack down on unscrupulous mortgage brokers. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has part of his “urban poverty” agenda, that calls for “stiff penalties to deter fraud and protect consumers against abusive lending practices.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, wrote to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to complain that “regulators have not adequately addressed the seriousness of our mortgage market troubles thus far,” and spoke of "a crisis of confidence in the broader credit markets."
In the poll, Iraq was the most important issue, followed by health care and then economy/jobs. It’s the latter two that offer a big opportunity for the candidates, according to a 27-page report on the poll.
“In spite of following campaign coverage, large proportions of the potential caucus attendees do not know enough about candidate positions on financial security and health care to be able to assess them or choose which candidate would best address the issues,” says the report, prepared by Gene Wright and Gretchen Straw, with data collected by Woelfel Research Inc.
Furthermore, more than half of those who have made up their mind say they’re willing to change it on the basis of those issues. “Clearly, candidates must do a better job of discussing health care and financial security with voters,” said Nancy LeaMond, the executive officer in charge of AARP's social impact programs.
The AARP surveyed members who say they may vote in the early contests. The poll was conducted from July 24 to Aug. 16, with a margin of error in each state of 4.4 percent.