Super Bowl-level ratings are expected for tonight's presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters plan to tune in, according to a survey by Washington, D.C.-based media analytics firm Deep Root Analytics. One in four say they are looking to the debates for guidance on how to cast their votes.
So, if you could ask Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton one question about money or the economy, what would it be?
NBC Nightly News anchor and debate moderator Lester Holt last week announced the themes of the debate -- "America's Direction," "Achieving Prosperity" and "Securing America" -- leaving wide open the door to discussion on a broad range of topics. What they will to improve Americans' lives will be front and center.
"The most important things voters are concerned about is what will you do to increase economic growth and the number of jobs in this country," said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, invoking James Carville's famous line from Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. "It's still the economy, stupid."
Money and the economy continue to dominate the American consciousness. In Gallup's "Most Important Problems" poll, economic issues consistently rate highly among respondents' greatest concerns, including the economy in general, jobs and the federal debt.
Of course, it is unlikely voters will get all the answers they want on the candidates' approaches to items like taxes, government spending and economic growth on Monday evening. Clinton, whose tendency is often to get into the weeds on policy points, will face a tough challenge in appealing to voters in a format that often favors style over substance. Trump has largely eschewed getting into specifics on the campaign trail, and it is unlikely this evening will be any different.
"Clinton has plans laid out of standard detail for a presidential candidate," said Ryan Williams, an aide to Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and current senior vice president at FP1 Strategies. "Trump hasn't really delved into any policy, financial or otherwise."
We polled a group of political strategists, economists and tax experts to find out what questions on money and the economy they would most like to see asked at Monday's debate, even if the candidates aren't likely to answer them.
1. How do you protect consumers from the implications of anti-trade policies?
"One thing that I think would be extremely useful would be to understand how the candidates view their highly-protectionist measures, or their proposed protectionist measures, how they see those measures influencing consumers," said Gregory Daco, head of U.S. macroeconomics at Oxford Economics.
Trump and, to a lesser extent, Clinton have taken a largely oppositional stance to free trade this election cycle. Both have said they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and would strengthen trade enforcement practices. Trump has gone as far as to say he will renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA and impose enormous tariffs on goods manufactured in Mexico and Japan.
The goal, they say, is to give more jobs to American workers and ensure a fairer economy. But there is a flip-side, as most economic models show such policies resulting in higher inflation and import prices, which eventually is passed on to consumers. How would they deal with such a result?
2. How would you approach monetary policy?
The Senate has declined to hold hearings on two potential Federal Reserve governors for more than a year, and Chairwoman Janet Yellen's term will come to an end in February 2018. In other words, the next president will have a heavy hand in selecting who will determine U.S. monetary policy in the years to come.
"That's a huge and important issue that doesn't get much play," said Dean Baker, an economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Trump has not shied away from discussion of the Federal Reserve and Yellen on the campaign trail, being both complementary and critical of Yellen at various points in recent months. He has at moments called Yellen "capable" and said she, like him, is a "low-interest-rate person." But he has also accused her of politicization, essentially implying she is keeping interest rates low in order to help President Obama.
Clinton has not discussed at great length her take on the Federal Reserve, though she has provided some insight into the types of governors she would appoint. A campaign spokesman in May indicated she would seek out "Fed governors who share this commitment and who will carry out unwavering oversight of the financial industry."
3. How do you tackle the holes in your tax plans?
For Clinton, it's about sussing out whether she is serious about extending the holding period for long-term capital gains, a proposal that has been roundly criticized as complicated and ineffectual, said Steve Rosenthal, tax lawyer and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
Clinton has called for raising capital gains tax rates for short-term trading as a mechanism for encouraging long-term investment, but experts say her proposal is overly complex and won't work. Most stock is held by tax-exempt entities like IRAs, nonprofit organizations and foreign entities that wouldn't be affected by a change in tax rates.
"I think the Clinton proposal on holding periods is ineffectual because of the decline in taxable holdings of stock. Relatively few investors pay tax on their stock gains," he said. The New York Times' Jim Stewart has also been critical of the plan as too complex. Were she to be asked about it on Monday, Rosenthal said, "the sensible thing would be for her to say this is a dumb idea and drop it."
As for Trump, the big question on taxes is how he would treat pass-through businesses. The candidate has given mixed signals on the rate he would impose on such entities, at one point indicating they would pay the 15% corporate tax rate but since then dropping mention of it from his platform. The discrepancy is a sizable one: $1 trillion.
"It would be a great loophole, and Trump has not answered the question of what he's doing," said Rosenthal.
4. What would you do for infrastructure?
Both Clinton and Trump have put forth major infrastructure spending plans. She has proposed a $275 billion, five-year proposal for rebuilding American infrastructure. His platform would cost at least double the amount of Clinton's, using debt financing.
Even though both candidates and their respective parties appear to agree that infrastructure spending is needed, Congress has failed to move meaningfully on the issue. While it's important to know what the candidates would do on infrastructure spending, but perhaps more important is, how would they go about doing it?
Bannon, who largely works with organized labor and progressive issue groups, said union members' ears are especially attuned to the question of infrastructure this election cycle.
"That's a big priority of the unions, that we've got to start building and rebuilding things, like the water systems in Flint, [Michigan] highways, mass transit. And that's part of the economic growth argument, and that's really a key for the unions. Very simply, it means jobs for their members," he said. "Even if those jobs don't go to their members, the fact we have more people working will raise the bottom salary level, which will push everybody up."
5. How do you explain your own personal financial matters?
"I expect that, on a personal note, there will be questions potentially asked about their personal financial situations," said Williams.
For Clinton, that means fielding questions about the Clinton Foundation and how overlaps were handled during her time at the State Department. It also entails rehashing her Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Report speeches and assuring voters if she is elected, past private sector ties won't influence her decision-making.
For Trump, it could entail accounting for the Trump Foundation, including a report from The Washington Postthat the real estate magnate used funds from his namesake charitable foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses. His unreleased tax returns should be on the docket as well.
Do Clinton and Trump actually agree on anything regarding the economy? Yes, says Andrew Left of widely followed Citron Research. Click here to see the only thing that Left told Real Money (our subscription-based sister site for active traders) that both candidates believe.