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.
The surging coronavirus pandemic, 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 — just like voters who, together, will pick the country’s next president.
Here’s why these voters are choosing Donald Trump or Joe Biden:
Gabriel Martini, 26, Gainesville, Fla.
Occupation: Day trader
Martini is witnessing the pandemic’s sprawling economic damage up close. His father, a pilot at United
has seen his hours halved. His sister, a flight attendant at American Airlines
is on furlough. Martini left his JetBlue
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.
‘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’
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. The rich can handle that hike, he said.
John Stous, 43, Holton, Kan.
Occupation: Cattle rancher
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%.
“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; 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.
‘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.’
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.”
Fanta Traore, 27, New Haven, Conn.
Occupation: Graduate student
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
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‘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’
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, affordable housing, health care coverage 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, 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. Biden’s ideas, and the people he surrounds himself with, show he believes that, Traore said.
Holly Davis, 38, Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
Occupation: Former health care worker
For Davis it boils down to school choice and health care.
Davis, a former health care worker, recently pulled one 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.
‘I don’t feel like this election is if you like the person or not, it’s what he’s done for our country and what he’s shown so far.’
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.”
“I don’t feel like this election is if you like the person or not, it’s what he’s done for our country and what he’s shown so far,” Davis told MarketWatch.
Elizabeth Meyer, 58, Sun City West, Ariz.
Occupation: Former human resources director
Meyer stopped working as a director of human resources seven years ago when she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that attacks nerve endings, often resulting in paralysis.
“One day I was working and the next day I found out I could never work again,” Meyer said.
Meyer was paralyzed at one point for three months and “had to learn how to walk again.” That has caused permanent nerve damage in her legs, she added.
It took her five years to get on disability insurance.
“As someone who is disabled, I want to make sure that my pre-existing condition will always be covered by insurance,” she told MarketWatch.
Meyer said she’s confident that under a Biden presidency she wouldn’t lose health insurance coverage for her pre-existing condition. “Part of his platform is that he wants to expand Medicare coverage at 60, and that’s important.”
Meyer also told MarketWatch she is concerned that her Social Security benefits could be cut further because of changes Trump made to payroll taxes which help fund the program.
The potential cut to Social Security benefits, she said, has not swayed fellow residents of the 55+ community she lives in to vote for Biden.
‘The people are so focused on one issue, which is pro-life, that they’re willing to give up their income and the incomes of their neighbors and some of these people maybe get $900 to live on a month’
“The support for Trump in my community is overwhelming, and it’s to the point where there are arguments and [community employees] turned off the TVs in the rec center so people don’t get into fights.”
“The people are so focused on one issue, which is pro-life, that they’re willing to give up their income and the incomes of their neighbors and some of these people maybe get $900 to live on a month.”
“For them they aren’t looking at the big picture. Their income could go away, you could be in absolute poverty if you lose that money.”
For Meyer and her husband, losing income from Social Security would be detrimental as her husband, who is 61, seeks to retire in a year.
“We have been very wise with our money, we’ve had good financial advice throughout the years,” Meyer said. But with the cost of COBRA health insurance, which would only last 18 months, she said, “he just can’t afford to quit working.”
Jack Claypool, 24, Denver, Colo.
Occupation: Insurance brokerage account manager
Ask Claypool what government-run health insurance is like and he’ll tell you from experience: “Long wait times, small networks, and below average coverage is what was provided to me in my geographical location.”
That helped fuel Claypool’s motivation to get a good job as an account manager at an insurance brokerage firm, along with the private-sector health insurance that comes with it. “Now that I’ve seen both sides, I prefer the private sector to the government route.”
“I do believe everyone should have access to healthcare, housing, and education, but is the federal government the most effective body to provide these services?” The small government proponent has serious doubts about that — which is why he is opting for Trump.
“I am not a Trump supporter, but I am in favor of a second term with (unfortunately) him at the wheel. Trump seems to have a more sound economic vision after the tax cuts in 2017 and again attempting to open up economies to keep small businesses afloat,” said Claypool, who voted for Clinton in 2016.
With Biden leading, and pushing his high-priced renewable energy and health care plans, Claypool worries about the mismanagement of taxpayer money.
‘I am not a Trump supporter, but I am in favor of a second term with (unfortunately) him at the wheel’
He also worries about coronavirus shutdown orders going too far. Five people in Claypool’s family contracted COVID-19. All five, including his grandparents in their 70s, had minor symptoms in the first few days and then nothing.
Claypool isn’t trying to downplay the public health issues right now, but he says the economy’s health is equally serious. “At the end of the day, the best health is freedom.”
Jillian Berman contributed to this report.