Even as they flock to primary polls to vote for non-mainstream presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Americans are voicing concerns over the direction and tenor of U.S. politics.
“I’ve heard the concerns, and it’s not just Americans,” says Jamie Hopkins, associate professor of taxation and co-director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income at The American College. “The International Economic Society has listed a Donald Trump presidency among the 10 biggest risks for the world economy, there are economists worried about the direction our politics are taking moving forward.”
A recent survey of affluent investors conducted last month by Spectrem Group found that the political climate is the most influential element shaping their economic outlook, beating out other issues like international relations, terrorism, market conditions and oil prices, but retirement experts say the concerns may be overblown.
Matthew Carbray, a CFP and partner with Ridgeline Financial Planners in Avon, Conn., says that he can understand the concern.
“Deficits, lower revenues, a need for major corporate tax reform legislation, repatriation of jobs that have gone abroad, those things are at the forefront of our clients’ thinking,” Carbray says. “We shouldn’t really be concerned about how the stock market is going to react or who is going to win the election, we should be concerned about how we get out from the incredible hole we’ve dug ourselves into.”
The 2016 presidential election occurs amidst volatile stock markets, international turmoil, recession concerns and ailing state and federal entitlement programs
Despite the high stakes in this year’s election, those concerns might be unwarranted, says Eric Sajdak, CIO and partner at Fox River Capital, an Appleton, Wisc.-based RIA.
“In a lot of cases, I think the concern is irrational,” Sajdak says. “Politics plays some role in investment performance and the retirement landscape, but overwhelmingly the individual has more of an effect on his or her own situation than politics will.”
Steve Cordasco, of the Philadelphia-based Cordasco Financial Network, says he isn’t hearing concerns so much as passion for political ideals. While the television and radio talk show host enjoys airing provocative views in the media, discussing politics is more difficult when it comes to providing professional advice. He says his clients feel torn between perceptions of cronyism in the Republican Party and socialism in the Democratic Party.
“It’s interesting because talking politics is what happens now in this financial space,” Cordasco says. “For many advisors, this is the first time they’ve had to deal with so much political passion from their clients, and some are likely scared to say what they think about this election cycle.”
Ed Horwitz, director of Creighton University’s Center for Insurance and Risk Management, says that investors should be reminded that the president lacks the ability to make permanent major policy changes.
“It really depends on the president and their administration, but in general the president talks about policy and the things they would like to see happen, and it has been up to Congress to come up with the rules and laws implementing policy,” Horwitz says. “The president has very limited power, they can’t really move the economy. A president can’t change the tax codes or how funds are appropriated without Congress.”
A president does have the ability to suggest an agenda for Congress, Horwitz says, and that could make the 2016 election important for retirees and near-retirees.
Tony Hellenbrand, Fox River’s president, says that Social Security tops his clients’ political concerns.
“Obviously, our clients know that changes need to be made to the system and soon, but we don’t think that the changes will impact the older generations,” Hellenbrand says. “I think adjustments and changes are going to be made for younger generations, the people who have time to plan, and you’re probably going to see a scale back of benefits for those people. People in or near retirement probably won’t be impacted.”
That means the next presidential administration will be one of the last with an opportunity to address the country’s ailing federal old-age entitlements, Social Security and Medicare.