'Mortgage Moms' May Star in Midterm Vote
Every election cycle has its own important set of undecided, or swing, voters. In 2000, it was the "soccer moms," targeted by both parties with appeals based on education and quality-of-life concerns. In 2004, it was the security moms, normally Democratic-trending women whose concerns about terrorism helped give Bush his margin of victory.
This year could mark the emergence of what might be called mortgage moms -- voters whose sense of well-being is freighted with anxiety about their families' financial squeeze. Democrats are betting that this factor is strong enough to trump security or cultural values issues.
Polls show that swing voters -- the category that candidates most want to attract -- are unhappier than the rest of the population about their economic circumstances. According to a recent survey by Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times, six in 10 self-described independents said the economy was doing badly, and seven in 10 said the country was on the wrong track. A Fox News poll, taken at the end of last month, showed that 23 percent of Americans consider the economy the most important factor they will weigh when they cast their ballot in November -- more than those who cited Iraq (14 percent) or terrorism (12 percent).
The gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced, has slowed a bit since the beginning of the year but is still growing at a respectable annual rate of 2.9 percent. And the unemployment rate is near its five-year low.
But the sour mood is not simply a matter of psychology. Since 2003, the inflation-adjusted median hourly wage of most workers has fallen by 2 percent, according to the Labor Department. And this summer marked the first time since 1991 that the annual inflation rate exceeded 4 percent for three consecutive months, driven partly by $3-per-gallon gasoline.
Then there is debt. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Board, the ratio of financial obligations -- primarily mortgage and consumer debt -- to disposable personal income rose to a modern record of 18.7 percent earlier this year. The amount of mortgage debt alone has more than doubled since 2000, to nearly $9 trillion. And in July, for the 16th consecutive month, consumers in the aggregate spent all of their disposable income and dipped into savings or borrowed to finance the things they bought.