Reporting from Washington — At no time in memory has housing been a major issue in a presidential election. Some years, the topic garners hardly more than a passing mention in the planks of either political party.
Right now, housing is not a front-and-center issue for President Obama or any of the Republican presidential hopefuls. But no fewer than four recent national surveys indicate that the issue is a top-of-mind topic among potential voters.
Granted, all four were undertaken by real estate organizations — Realtor.com, HouseLogic, Yahoo Real Estate and Trulia. But the unanimity of their findings underscores just how worried current and future owners are about their homes.
"We were very surprised just how passionate people are" about housing issues, said Julia Reynolds of Move Inc., which operates Realtor.com, the official website of the National Assn. of Realtors.
In the Realtor.com survey, housing was a particularly strong voting issue for "millennials," also known as the Internet Generation. Millennials were born after 1982, meaning that the oldest will be of prime home-buying age when November rolls around.
On a nearly 3-1 basis, these young voters told the Realtor.com pollsters that what the candidates had to say about housing will be either very or somewhat important to their voting decisions.
In the poll by HouseLogic, a consumer website also operated by the politically powerful Realtors group, housing came in a distant second to jobs as the issue that will have the greatest effect on respondents' votes in November. But housing ranked way above national security, healthcare, energy or the environment.
Just over half the participants in the Yahoo study want Uncle Sam to do more to help owners who are at risk of losing their homes. A little more than 1 in 4 said the federal government has gone as far as it should to help struggling owners. The rest had no opinion on the matter.
Like the HouseLogic survey, the Trulia poll found that fixing the sagging economy comes first in the minds of voters. But nearly 3 out of 4 respondents agreed that government policies and programs should encourage homeownership.
Asked about specific policies, respondents who identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans had a strong, bipartisan predilection toward helping people remain in their homes. Specifically, 78% think it should be easier for underwater borrowers to refinance, and 67% want policymakers to encourage lenders to reduce borrowers' mortgage balances in an effort to save their homes.
In the Realtor.com survey, 82% consider housing to be crucial to the national economic recovery. And they say helping homeowners avoid foreclosure should be a top priority during the next president's first 100 days in office.
At the same time, though, views vary widely about what the government's piece of the housing pie should be. About 20% want an increased role, 31% want it to remain the same, and 42% said its function should be curtailed.
Although millennials want government to prioritize housing and support its recovery, the Realtor.com survey showed that only 25% of that key demographic — and the next generation of home buyers — think an increased government presence is the answer.
With 10 months to go before ballots are cast, anything can happen to sway voters. But right now a majority on both sides of the aisle think housing could be President Obama's Achilles' heel come Nov. 6, according to the Trulia study.
Of those polled, 57% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans think that housing will hurt Obama's chances for reelection.
Distributed by Universal Uclick for United Feature Syndicate.