Economic crisis makes voters take harder look at presidential race

WASHINGTON – Voter registration is up nationwide and the U.S. presidential election captured the world’s attention some time ago, but the current economic crisis that prompted Congress to approve a $700 billion financial recovery package seems to be creating a more intensive focus by voters on the candidates.

“I have friends who were pretty passive about the election before all of this came up, and now the presidential race dominates most of our conversations,” said Phylis Perry, 55, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Pitman, N.J.

Democrats, Republicans and Independents are looking for a president who will navigate the country out of what they see as a bad economic storm and protect them from potential raging unemployment, business failures, drying up retirement funds and frozen credit markets, said Thomas A. Foster, 68, of Southfield, Mich., a parishioner of St. Alexander Church in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“If there could possibly be a good effect from this mess, I’d say it’s that it seems to have gotten more people involved in the political process,” Mr. Foster, an Independent, told Catholic News Service Oct. 3. “So, that is a good thing.”

Though Sean Ballard of Baldwin is pleased U.S. citizens are giving the candidates a more thorough examination, the 51-year-old Republican parishioner of St. Matthew in Baltimore fears voters will zoom in on just the economy when casting their ballot Nov. 4.

“This does look like it’s becoming a single-issue election,” said Ms. Perry, a Republican who lives in a predominantly Republican New Jersey community. “This is a pretty small town where most people know their neighbors, and I’ve recently seen a lot of Obama signs go up on the lawns of people I know are Republicans. It’s been interesting to see how fast this all came about.”

The economy may have been on a down cycle for the past several months, but the recent failure of major financial institutions and the resulting credit crunch created havoc on Wall Street and moved President George W. Bush to tell Congress and the American public the federal government needed an unprecedented amount of cash to stabilize the markets.

President Bush predicted that without federal intervention there would be grave economic consequences, which he said could result in a painful recession with stifling unemployment.

Both presidential nominees – Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain – voted in favor of the largest bailout of financial institutions since the Great Depression, but national polls have indicated support is shifting in Sen. Obama’s favor and that a majority of Americans believe the Democrats have a stronger economic plan.

The Republican administration that has been in power for the past seven-plus years has been blamed by many political pundits for the economic crisis, and Sen. Obama has taken ample opportunity to link Sen. McCain to the President Bush policies.

But, neither candidate has yet to come forward with a specific proposal on the economy in light of the crisis.

“I think that folks will vote Democrat, thinking that a Republican caused this, which I do not agree with,” said Ms. Ballard, who said she too is considering casting her ballot for Sen. Obama.

“People also adopt this ‘get-rid-of-the-bums’ fever when something like this comes up,” Ms. Perry told CNS. “That won’t help McCain.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.