Editor's pick: Originally published Jan. 14.
2016 is shaping up to be a wild ride for the markets, but none of the presidential candidates seem to be talking about it.
Stocks have seen their worst start to the year ever, and a major market selloff, spurred by concerns over China and plunging oil prices, has investors worried. The Royal Bank of Scotland issued a note last week warning clients to "sell everything except high-quality bonds," and the junk-bond market is signaling a 44% chance of recession, according to Bloomberg.
As Wall Street prepares for a potential bear market, presidential contenders haven't said much about it. There's a good reason: Talking about stock market drops, even as they relate to the health of the wider economy, isn't particularly helpful on the campaign trail, especially in a race where populism has propelled candidates on both sides of the aisle to prominence.
"Stock market fluctuations are associated with rich people and big companies, banks and financial services," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, economist and president of the American Action Forum, a center-right policy institute in Washington, D.C. "Those have all become political footballs, and nobody cares about them, no one's defending them, and no one's going to stick their neck out and comment on ... how the markets have gone down so much."
Much of what has been driving both the Democratic and Republican races so far has been anti-elitist fervor. Bernie Sanders' anti-Wall Street message has spurred an unexpected resonance among progressives, and Donald Trump has dominated the GOP race with an anti-establishment message that appeals to an increasingly angry, white middle-class.
On the flip side, Hillary Clinton has come under heavy scrutiny over her Wall Street ties. Ted Cruz this week is weathering a storm caused by a New York Times reportWednesday that he failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans taken out from big banks Goldman Sachs and Citibank to fund his 2012 Senate campaign.
When voters hear about the markets, they may be more likely to conjure these negative associations rather than think about their paychecks and 401ks, explained Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communications at American University..
"Politicians have to be very concerned that they don't seem to be coming off as worried about those with the most means versus those with the fewest," he said.
The scenario puts politicians in a precarious spot, especially those in need of big-money donations to keep their campaigns chugging along.
"Insofar as people sitting in Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs are seen as the economic elites, candidates may want to raise money from them but don't want to seen as too cozy with them," Steinhorn, a former political consultant and speechwriter, said.
The Markets Are Too Complex for Voters to Understand...
It's not just that talking about the stock market doesn't appeal to voters, but it's a difficult task, as well. Discussing the intricacies of investing is isn't easy (even Sanders has struggled to give specifics on his Wall Street attacks, and Cruz can barely count to five).
"This is a meaty subject and complicated and hard, so it's not a place that a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz or a lot of these guys will easily gravitate to," said Holtz-Eakin, who served as chief economic policy adviser to U.S. Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
...And They Probably Don't Care
Steinhorn offered another, perhaps more unconventional, theory as to why presidential contenders -- namely, Republicans -- aren't talking about the market downturn: Voters don't seem all too concerned about it may indicate people aren't as dissatisfied with the state of things as they would like to hope.
One of the main lines of attack employed by Republicans against the Obama administration and the Democrats has been that the U.S. economy is flailing. Many contend that post-crisis growth has not been fast enough and that most American's still aren't feeling the lasting effects of recovery. Polls seem to indicate that most aren't thrilled with the direction the country is headed in, either.
But as the stock market has dropped this year and the Wall Street alarm bells have begun to sound, most Americans don't appear to be incredibly distressed about a potential downturn.
"If people don't seem to be overly worried about the decline in the stock market, perhaps this reflects an underlying confidence in the American economy that's being reflected or seen in the doom-sayer rhetoric of many of these candidates," Steinhorn said.
In other words, while Trump may say he's a great stock picker, don't expect him to start talking stocks, bonds and options any time soon.