Can Credit Scores Predict Which Way Swing States Will Swing?

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Credit card debt"Can credit profiles predict which way a state will swing?"

That's the question posed in a new survey of voters' financial health just released by free credit-ratings site CreditSesame.com. In the survey, Credit Sesame compared voters' median credit scores, debt-to-income levels, mortgage sizes, and credit card usage across twelve 2012 battleground states.

Their conclusion? Despite what you might be hearing on the news today, seven of the 12 so-called "swing states" could be "in play" come November.

Political pundits expect Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania to vote for President Obama. But based on their financial profiles, Credit Sesame suggests these states may have a lot more in common with Governor Romney's supporters than with the President's.

North Carolina – another "swing state"– is already believed to favor Romney, and its financial metrics support what the pollsters are saying. Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, on the other hand, are all true "toss ups," according to Credit Sesame.

What's Red and Blue with Numbers All Over?

Credit Sesame comes to this conclusion by way of comparing financial stats for the swing states to those prevalent in states that have historically favored Republican, or Democratic, candidates.

For example, your typical voter in a state expected to go for Obama has ...
  • a median credit score of 729
  • a debt-to-income level of 14%
  • and a mortgage valued at $187,450.
Moreover, voters residing in Obama/Blue states make use of about 16% of their available credit. In contrast, Red state voters are about twice as aggressive (32%) in exploiting credit card limits. Not coincidentally, they possess lower credit scores (677), and higher debt-to-income levels (18%), despite carrying smaller mortgages ($118,374).

Meet the Typical Voter

Now it's important to point out, for anyone reading this whose middle-school math vocabulary is perhaps a bit rusty, that Credit Sesame is looking at the typical voter here -- the "median" voter, or someone smack dab in the middle of the population, with half her state's voters scoring above her, and half below. That's as contrasted with the more common "mean" voter, a mathematical "average" man, created by adding up all a state's voters' credit scores, and dividing by the number of voters in the survey.

With that being understood, what do the data reveal? Here are a few surprises for you:
  • Almost half of the swing states, including four that pollsters expect will line up behind President Obama next month, sport low mortgage debt levels more typical of red states. Indeed, voters in these four states -- Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin -- actually carry mortgage debts smaller than those typically found among Romney voters.
  • Voters in a majority of the swing states -- New Hampshire, Virginia, Iowa, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada -- are financially stressed, with debt-to-income levels at or above the 18%-level typical of Romney voters.
  • All 12 of the swing states boast credit usage scores higher than the mean number typical in blue states.
"It's the Economy." Stupid?

So far, these three stats seem to argue in favor of Romney being able to come from behind, and snag a majority of the swing states' votes.

There is, however, one statistic on which the current President appears to have an edge in the race to become our next president as well: Credit scores.

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Out of all 12 swing states surveyed, Credit Sesame finds that only one -- Nevada, home to the city (Vegas) with the highest home foreclosure rate in the country last year -- hosts a population with credit scores worse than the average for Red states. And while only a few of the swing states approach the high credit scores more common in "Obama Country," at least they're doing better than the typical Romney voter.

In short, if credit scores -- and the good feelings a shopper gets when applying for a card and discovering she has a good score -- are any guide, many of these voters might decide they really are "better off" voting for current president again. And if this is how things work out, the country could go for Obama in a landslide, with more than 90% of even the so-called swing states swinging his way.

On the other hand, if worries over maxed-out credit cards and high debt levels dominate, it's the pundits who could be in for a surprise come November 6.

Can Credit Scores Predict Which Way Swing States Will Swing?

A. 46%
B. 32%
C. 18%
D. 10%

Most tax filers pay payroll taxes like Social Security and Medicare. In fact, only 18.1% don't send anything to the Federal government. Of these, almost 57% are elderly, and don't bring home a regular paycheck.

A. 1.2 million
B. 162,000
C. 53,000
D. 2,000

More than 162,000 people who are among the top 10% of all earners -- basically, those who make over $163,173 -- didn't pay any federal income tax in 2011. Among the top 0.1% of filers -- the richest households in the country -- 3,000 (2.3% of them) didn't pay income tax in 2011.

A. Red states
B. Blue states
C. They're about equally distributed

Of the 20 states with the highest percentage of non-income tax-paying filers, twelve are firmly in the red camp. On the opposite end of the spectrum, just three of the 20 lowest-percentage states skew red.

A. 41%
B. 37%
C. 23%
D. 12%

In terms of total effective tax rate -- the total percentage of income that a taxpayer sends to the federal government, from excise taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, and other levies -- the poorest fifth of Americans pays an average of 17.4%. The top 1% pays 29%, so they pay 11.6% more than the poorest 20%.

A. 67%
B. 51%
C. 34%
D. 19%

The top 20% of taxpayers pay 63.1% of all taxes and take home 59.6% of all income. In fact, all income groups pay a percentage of the total federal tax revenue that is almost equal to the percentage of America's income that they take home.

A. The bottom 20% of earners 

B. The top 1% of earners

While state taxes vary depending on where you live, every state hits the working class harder than the top 1%. The best state is Vermont, where the richest 1% pay 7.5% of their income and the poorest 20% pay 8.2% -- or 1.1 times as much. The worst state is Washington, where the richest pay a measly 2.6% of their income and the poorest pay a staggering 17.3% -- or 6.7 times as much.

A. 20%
B. 13%
C. 7%
D. 1%

In terms of total effective tax rate -- the actual percentage of income paid into taxes, accounting for all credits, exemptions, deductions, and so forth -- the richest 1% of the country pays 29% of its income. The middle 20% pays 28.3%, or 0.7% less. For that matter, it's worth noting that the poorest 20%, the group least likely to pay federal income tax, still sends 17.4% of its wages to the taxman.

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Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no financial position in any company mentioned above.
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