Trump and Biden voters share the money worries behind their choice for the next president: 'People are not able to meet their full potential'
By Andrew Keshner and Elisabeth Buchwald
The economy is voters' top priority, according to multiple polls.
A Florida day trader who's watching the pandemic ravage finances for friends and family.
A Kansas rancher who dislikes the country's divisions and worries about tax hikes aimed at the rich and corporations.
A Connecticut student who sees a potential turning point in the racial wealth gap after studying it and living through it.
Every voter has a story, and these are the economic backstories and money motivations of some of the people who are voting for President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger.
Each person who MarketWatch interviewed had a unique blend of hopes and fears, but these voters are not alone in their focus on the economy.
Multiple polls, ranging from Gallup (https://news.gallup.com/poll/321617/economy-tops-voters-list-key-election-issues.aspx) to the Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/21/only-24-of-trump-supporters-view-the-coronavirus-outbreak-as-a-very-important-voting-issue/) to the Kaiser Family Foundation (https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/report/kff-health-tracking-poll-september-2020/), show the economy is the top priority for voters right now.
The surging coronavirus pandemic (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/pandemic-fatigue-is-hitting-americans----and-likely-behind-surging-covid-19-infections-2020-10-28?mod=home-page), which now has 8.8 million American cases and almost 228,000 deaths, scores second or lower in those polls. But the outbreak and the economy are intertwined (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/stock-futures-rise-ahead-of-gdp-data-after-worst-day-since-june-11603971644?mod=home-page) -- just like voters who, together, will pick the country's next president.
Here's why these voters are choosing Donald Trump or Joe Biden:
Martini is witnessing the pandemic's sprawling economic damage up close. His father, a pilot at United (UAL), has seen his hours halved. His sister, a flight attendant at American Airlines (AAL), is on furlough. Martini left his JetBlue (JBLU) customer service job of five years with a buyout several months ago. Better that than a future layoff, he figured.
"I feel like the whole pandemic has been handled poorly. Especially coming from an entire airline family, to watch us get wiped out in one swoop, it was hard to watch," Martini said.
He voted for Biden and his entire family is backing Biden -- even his Republican grandfather.
After his conversation with MarketWatch, Martini was headed to help his dad downsize out of the five-bedroom dream house he can no longer afford. He has airline industry friends who scrapped home purchases because they suddenly couldn't afford them or were nervous whether they'd be able to pay their mortgages in the future.
Martini is planning to become a pilot himself, but for now he's a full-time day trader. In all the stock market volatility, Martini has made out well. He shorted the drop earlier this year and then bought more stocks at cheaper prices. But he doesn't think that the rally will be real under Trump. "How long can that last if no one's working?"
Martini thinks the economy will fare better under Biden. For example, Biden is pledging a tax increase for corporations and people making over $400,000 (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/some-wealthy-americans-are-prepping-their-finances-for-a-possible-joe-biden-presidency-this-is-all-going-up-and-you-may-never-see-it-as-good-as-it-is-now-2020-09-16). The rich can handle that hike, he said.
Stous has reservations about Trump -- but Biden's big government ideas concern him a lot more.
"I don't necessarily agree with the person that Donald Trump is as an individual. But I believe the policies that will be passed under Donald Trump align more in my thought process than anything I heard from the left," said the cattle rancher, who dislikes how bitterly divided the country is.
Start with Biden's tax plan. Stous isn't buying that Biden's tax hike will be limited to people making $400,000 and above. "I do not believe that. I do not trust that." And Stous disagrees with Biden's call to raise the corporate rate from 21% to 28%.
Related: What Trump and Biden tax policies could mean for your paycheck, tax return, investments and retirement savings (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-trump-and-biden-tax-policies-could-affect-your-paycheck-tax-return-investment-portfolio-and-nest-egg-2020-09-21)
"Reducing the corporate tax, I believe, is a way to, A. create jobs and, B. it puts more money back into our pocket ... The more [corporations] are taxed, they are going to make their money some how, some way." Like slimmer employee salaries, Stous said.
Stous has to deal with constantly rising health care premiums and deductibles, which he attributes to the Affordable Care Act. He's now paying $12,000 annually for himself and his three kids, while his wife gets coverage through her employer (a move that made financial sense for them.) Stous said prices for him on the ACA's exchange were even more expensive.
"To be frank, the ACA has increased my family's insurance premiums and has decreased some of the coverage we are able to have," Stous said. Still, he added, he's frustrated the GOP hasn't unveiled specifics on its alternative to the ACA.
Stous credits Trump for his tariffs against China (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-win-the-trade-war-with-china-2019-09-03); it's long past the time for someone to duel with China over its unfair economic practices Stous said. That's even if the ensuing trade war might cut into Stous' own bottom line.
When Stous sold 70 steers last year, he had $85,000 in sales receipts (not profit). If he sold the same amount at recent auction prices, he estimates he'd make $13,000 less -- that's due to a combination of tariffs, customers' disposable income and a yearslong consumer shift from red meat, he said.
Biden says he only wants to end government subsidies for the oil industry, but Stous doesn't believe it. "I don't trust someone who wants to eliminate fossil fuel to be in my best interests with beef prices. They kind of go hand in hand."
Also read: Fracking and the 'Green New Deal': Here's where Trump and Biden stand on climate change (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-where-trump-and-biden-stand-on-climate-change-2020-09-29?mod=rachel-koning-beals)
A one time Federal Reserve staffer, Traore can't help but think about the economy and a shrinking middle class in big picture terms. But she's also very attuned to the human consequences of an inefficient economy. Put together, that's why she's voting for Biden.
Traore watched her mother close her Bronx salon during the Great Recession. The mother of four went back to school and got a unionized job in the health services sector. Traore's father works in maintenance and is an Uber (UBER) driver.
It's a step up, but things shouldn't have to be so tough for her parents and people like them, according to Traore, who is pursuing an MBA and master's degree in public policy at Yale University. Before that, she was a senior research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
"People are not able to meet their full potential under Trump. And under Joe Biden, there's an opportunity to really live and have a lifestyle that enables you to live your best quality of life, whether healthwise, whether financially."
Biden's ideas on issues like student debt forgiveness (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-a-president-biden-or-a-president-trump-could-affect-the-student-debt-crisis-and-college-affordability-11600702994), affordable housing (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-where-2020-presidential-candidates-including-elizabeth-warren-and-kamala-harris-stand-on-affordable-housing-2019-07-25), health care coverage (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-where-trump-and-biden-stand-on-health-care-2020-09-28) and small business financing can expand the middle-class budgets now getting eaten up by costs and help marginalized groups like Black and Hispanic communities, Traore thinks.
"These are people who are capable, and what's missing is support so they can thrive," said Traore, co-founder and chief operations officer for The Sadie Collective (https://www.sadiecollective.org/), a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the pipeline for Black women in economics.
"If the economy works for Black women, it can work for everyone," Traore said, noting a point other experts have made (https://rooseveltinstitute.org/publications/black-women-best-the-framework-we-need-for-an-equitable-economy/). Biden's ideas, and the people he surrounds himself with, show he believes that, Traore said.
For Davis it boils down to school choice and health care.
Davis, a former health care worker, recently pulled two of her three children out of public school and is now homeschooling them because she wanted to decide what they are taught.
"I felt it was imperative to choose that because it was just giving me too much anxiety of what they were going to be taught. Was it the real history? Was it what you should be taught, or was it them pushing their own views?" she said, referring to the public school curriculum.
Trump, along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has supported what's known as "school choice," which calls for distributing vouchers that transfer tax money toward private-school tuition or charter schools. Critics of this program, who include Biden, argue that it takes away funds from public schools that are already underfunded.
Davis, however, believes that it "is more beneficial for a child to not be distinguished by their ZIP code."
She is also voting for Trump because of the improvements she believes he made to health care. Under Obamacare, she and her husband both did not have health care, "but we had to pay a penalty because he didn't have insurance and we made too much to be on Obamacare."
"Trump changed that -- he got away from taxing you if you don't have insurance."
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October 30, 2020 00:04 ET (04:04 GMT)
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