Which presidential candidate will be better for consumers?

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By Christopher Elliott

Here’s a safe topic for Saturday morning: With only a few days before the presidential election, how do the candidates feel about you, the American consumer?

One way to measure is to see how often they mention consumers.

A search for the words “consumer” on their campaign websites show that they’re evenly matched. When I researched this article, I found about 100 instances of the words. Trump had a slight edge.

For example, in his healthcare reform proposal, Trump notes, “the American people have had to suffer under the incredible economic burden of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare.”

“Congress must act,” he concludes, by completely repealing Obamacare. “Our elected representatives must eliminate the individual mandate. No person should be required to buy insurance unless he or she wants to.”

He adds,

As long as the plan purchased complies with state requirements, any vendor ought to be able to offer insurance in any state. By allowing full competition in this market, insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up.

Agree or disagree, it’s great for a presidential candidate to care about consumer satisfaction.

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Consumers are also mentioned in Trump’s recent speech at the Detroit Economic Club. The context: A critique of the current administration’s regulations.

In 2015 alone, the Obama Administration unilaterally issued more than 2,000 new regulations – each a hidden tax on American consumers, and a massive lead weight on the American economy.

It is time to remove the anchor dragging us down.

Upon taking office, I will issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations. My running mate, Mike Pence, signed a similar order when he became governor of Indiana. This will give our American companies the certainty they need to reinvest in our community, get cash off of the sidelines, start hiring for new jobs, and expanding businesses.

Again, no matter what your opinion of these proposed policies, it’s nice to see the focus on the consumer.

Clinton mentions consumers in a similar context as Trump, but takes a different position.

As we see more consolidation in health care, among both providers and insurers, I’m worried that the balance of power is moving too far away from consumers.

I have serious concerns about the proposed mergers between Anthem and Cigna, and between Aetna and Humana. One could raise market concentration in New Hampshire to excessive levels, and both have concerning effects on competition in other markets.

These mergers should be scrutinized very closely with an eye to preventing the undue concentration that they appear to create. I am very skeptical of the claim that consumers will benefit from them because the evidence from careful studies shows that too often the companies end up pocketing profits rather than passing savings to consumers. These companies should commit to passing on savings and efficiencies to consumers as lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Who is the real consumer advocate?

Indeed, when it comes to regulation, her position appears to be the opposite of Trump’s. More regulation, not less, is the answer. Why? It will help you, she says. When it comes to Wall Street, for example, it will “ensure that the financial sector serves the interests of investors and consumers, not just itself.”

So the word “consumer” is being used a lot in this election season. But who’s the real consumer advocate?

I guess it depends on how you define “consumer.” If you mean the average middle-class American, you’ll probably go with one candidate. If you mean a large corporation or special interest, you’ll go with the other one.

I’m far more interested in what the candidates haven’t said yet, which is why I’m inclined to offer them the benefit of the doubt. (Here’s what you need to know before booking your next airline ticket.)

I haven’t seen any specific, compelling proposals to increase consumer protections. One candidate seems to feel that if we eliminated wasteful regulation and let the free market’s invisible hand do its work, consumers would be better off. The other seems to feel more regulation is the only way to protect consumers. (Related: Why you’re the journalist of the year.)

I’m sure you’ve seen examples of unnecessary regulation in your everyday life, just as you’ve probably experienced a time when you said, “There ought to be a law.”

Do we know how these candidates will protect consumers when they become president? Probably not. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to find out.

Which presidential candidate will be better for consumers?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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