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Is The Election Impacting Oklahomans' Pocketbooks?

Nov 3, 2016
Originally published on November 7, 2016 12:30 pm

Oklahomans might be holding on to their money leading up to the election. One researcher suspects people here may be even more anxious than voters than other states. 

The business at Dean’s Drive-Through Pawn Shop in south Oklahoma City is slower than it used to be. Brett Fisher's dad started the shop in 1968. Owning a business was never easy, but they did it as a family and still had time to ride dirt bikes together. Brett bought the business 23 years ago, and things have never been tougher.

"It’s not that great anymore," Fisher said. "A lot of times, I wish that I could work my eight hours and go home and leave what I had there for tomorrow.  It’s 365/24/7 with me, and it’s because I have me, my wife, all of my employees and their families depending on it."

It’s not just a pawn shop anymore. To keep up, he’s added a check cashing business and a drive through post office, one of just a few in the whole country. He says it’s what small business people do. They find ways to do more to make just a little more money…to make ends meet. 

Brett is nervous about the future, about what might happen after the elections.

"I’ve never felt this scared about the future of my country and what choices I may have to make as an individual with gun rights, as a business owner, what legislation might come down," he said.

Just a few blocks away from the pawn shop, Leo Guevara opened Leo’s Cakery, a custom dessert business, nearly five years ago. He’s a Mexican immigrant living the American dream.

While Brett Fisher worries about what will happen if Hillary Clinton wins, but Leo is afraid of what will happen if Donald Trump becomes the next president. He says his customers feel anxious, so they’re holding on to their money.

"No one is spending money," Guevara said. "You know, even myself. I do on basic things that I have to but not like going out to eat so much. I'm just trying to save money because you don't really know what's going to happen. We are all afraid of that, I guess." 

The business at Leo’s Cakery is down 40 percent from a year ago. In this primarily Hispanic neighborhood, people are scared about what immigration policies might look like under a Trump presidency. Even Leo has considered packing up and moving his family to another country because of what might happen.

"I'm  an American citizen. I become American about 4 years ago," Guevara said. "What if something happened to me? What if he wants to send me back? I have to keep all my money so I can have money wherever I go."

Can fear of what might happen in the elections really have that much of an impact on our local economy? Maybe.

Will Kenton is the senior news and market editor for Investopedia, an online financial news site. For close to a year, his team has tracked data about what people in Oklahoma are searching for when it comes to finances. 

"We have seen that readers in Oklahoma have displayed in the last 12 months or so more economic anxiety than the rest of the country," Kenton said. "Whether that's due to the oil industry or something else, I think that that will have some effect on how people pull the lever in the ballot box."

Many of the people we talked to during our election coverage say they are anxious about the elections and they’re being more cautious with spending.  Economically, Kenton says it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"It could be that as soon as that question is resolved that whoever wins,  if the economy is doing well that people will feel less anxious," Kenton said.

Chintamani Jog is an economics professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and points to one reason why people might change spending habits based on their feelings.

"There’s something called anchoring, which psychologists often use. Anchoring is the term which says it’s a tendency to put more than proportionate emphasis on the first or the biggest piece of information that you hear," Jog said

In other words, with the presidential election dominating the news cycle, we might unconsciously blame the economy on the presidential election, and we could do that with any other major news event.  

Back at the pawn shop, Brett doesn't have the luxury of spending all of his time just worrying about the presidential election.  There are other battles to fight.

"It’s all regulations, it’s all paying bills," he said. "It’s doing this, worrying about insurance, worrying about workman’s comp, worrying about health insurance, worrying about this, worrying about that." 

Oklahoma will still have economic worries after the election as the oil and gas industry continues to struggle.  For small business owners like Brett Fisher and Leo Guevara, there’s even more to worry about as they think about making the next dollar.

Oklahoma Engaged is a collaborative series between KGOU and KOSU, with support from the Kirkpatrick Foundation.

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