Finance professionals on mail-in voting, Supreme Court vacancy

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election looms, business leaders are contemplating two outcomes that could drastically alter the markets in which they work, with the winner shaping policies that will reverberate within lending and housing for years to come.

Arizent — the parent company of National Mortgage News — conducted a survey on the 2020 presidential election from Sept. 17 to Sept. 22, polling mortgage lenders, banks, accounting and payments firms, insurance agencies, municipal finance agencies, wealth management and others. A total of 1,201 industry professionals participated.

The findings revealed a sharply divided group, with Republican and Democratic factions expressing strong opposition to the other party's viewpoints. Priorities, too, vary greatly across party lines.


The party divide

The financial services sector, including mortgage companies, featured a 41.4% share of registered Republicans, 25% Democrats, 22.7% Independents, 8.9% who preferred not to say and 2% other parties. The breakdown in party affiliation within the sector contrasts with the general population's party split as reported by the most recent Gallup poll, over Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. That report found the American public to be 29% Republican, 30% Democrat and 40% Independent.

When asked who they'd be voting for, the Arizent survey's financial sector respondents skewed 54% in favor of Trump and 40% for Biden, with the remaining 6% split evenly between being unsure or withholding their answer.

Priorities greatly differ across party lines, from addressing climate change to national debt, protecting against voter fraud to filling a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Finding a safe and proven cure for the coronavirus, however, provided common ground for both sides of the aisle.

Right-wing worries

Survey respondents chose the five most urgent concerns they'd like the next administration and Congress to address.

For participants registered as GOP voters, financial matters rose to the forefront, while environmental issues and inequality problems were on the backburner.

Cutting down the national debt placed as the most important issue, as 70.9% of Republicans chose it compared to 25.6% of Democrats and 51.3% of Independents. A 57.7% share said developing a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine was a key issue, followed by 57.2% for small business investment. Funding infrastructure and cybersecurity rounded out the top five for Republicans.

"The amount of federal debt is becoming frightening," a Republican C-level bank executive said. "This might be as big of a threat to our children as the environment."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 6.5% of Republicans selected nonbank regulation as a priority, while 9.9% picked climate change and 10.5% affordable housing.

Some Republican respondents characterized nationwide protests for racial equality in much the same way President Trump has spoken about them.

One Republican C-level mortgage executive raised concerns on a "mob rule approach by the Democrats" saying, "it is clear that the more chaos in the streets of America is something they are in favor of."

The liberal agenda

Registered Democrats largely emphasized humanitarian issues as top concerns. Finding a COVID-19 vaccine was a top issue for 79.3% of registered Democrats.

Climate change finished in a close second place, with a 78.9% share. This compared to a 9.9% share of Republicans and 43.6% of Independents. Following that, 57.5% of Democrats chose expanding health care access, a policy with 24.3% Republican and 38.9% Independent interest.

"The wealthiest country in the world needs to invest in its people, not the stock market. 'Trickle down' economics doesn't work," a Democrat bank executive said. "Let’s get rid of that Reagan spin and invest in infrastructure, alternative energy and health care. Let's get people working, let’s raise the minimum wage so that everyone has a chance to prosper."

Addressing the centuries-old dilemmas of racial and economic inequity finished as the fourth- and fifth-most selected options, respectively. Nonbank regulation, international trade and affordable housing received the fewest amount of votes.

"The GOP of late has no morals with exception to making money and retaining power," an independent fintech employee said. "They have lost their duty to the country, care not about our fiscal debt, the environment, caring for COVID victims and preventing more contagion, race equality, fair taxes, the list goes on."

Mailing it in

When and how people will vote in a pandemic created strong feelings in both parties. Within financial services, 60.2% said they will cast their ballots in-person while 36.5% said they'll do it by mail or at an election office drop-off box.

The validity and integrity of the election has become a hot-button topic with the GOP respondents expressing strong apprehension about voting by mail.

Overall, 58.3% of the party had little to no confidence in the process, compared to just 8.8% of Democrats. On the flip side, 18% of surveyed Republicans expressed slight or no concern, compared to 78.9% of Democrats.

"I am skeptical of the ballot mail in process because votes could not be entered in time for election results and could be easily manipulated," said a Republican C-level wealth manager.

Independents also noted concern about voter fraud but one respondent noted that tech tools could aid in verifying results.

"We need technology that will allow for one person/one vote with the utmost certainty," a registered Independent employee of a mortgage company said. "People should have an ID to vote or technology that can scan your face or eyes and ensure that someone is only voting once."

Supreme leadership

The political firefight kicked off by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing electrified the presidential race for both parties, as the GOP looks to install a replacement before Election Day and Democrats point to the Republican blockade for President Obama's nominee when a seat opened up during his remaining months in office.

Before Justice Ginsburg's passing, 83.5% of respondents said the makeup of the Supreme Court was either critical or very important to them. By party, it broke down at 71.7% of Republicans, 95.3% of Democrats and 71.4% Independents.

Now with a vacancy, 47.4% of respondents said the Supreme Court has a higher significance in their voting come November. About 38% of Democrats, 24% of Republicans and 29% of Independents said the court was much more important to their vote given the open seat.

"The loss of Justice Ginsburg at this key moment when the results of the election may again fall to the Supreme Court, as they did in 2000 with Gore and Bush, is monumental," a registered Independent senior manager of a financial advisory firm said.