For a topic that affects both Main Street and Wall Street and that drove the last recession, the largest since the Great Depression, housing sure isn't getting much airtime in the current presidential election (or any airtime in the case of this month's debates). Why is this? Primarily because neither candidate has a politically compelling angle with which to attack the other.
First, President Barack Obama's best narrative around housing is a counterfactual argument, namely that while home values excluding foreclosures are down more than 21 percent from their peak levels, they would have declined a lot more without his policies. This is similar to the approach that the president has taken in speaking about unemployment and job growth, and it can be a difficult tactic politically because it amounts to saying "I know things stink, but it could have been a lot worse." This approach leaves it up to the listener to assess whether it could be worse or not. It's not a bad defensive message if that's all you've got, but it's not a political message that the president is likely to lead with.
So why doesn't Mitt Romney spend more time talking about housing given that Obama doesn't have a politically winning argument on this front? Well, it turns out that Obama hasn't left Romney many politically attractive options to do so. Obama has largely pursued a pretty centrist line on housing policy. The president has ignored plenty of calls for more radical policies to fix housing such as widespread principal reduction, asserting eminent domain over mortgages or squashing the property rights of bondholders of mortgage-backed securities. The president also has resisted calls to sack Ed DeMarco, the head regulator overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who has thwarted administration plans to pursue principal reduction more aggressively for Fannie and Freddie mortgages.
The fact that Obama has stayed to the center in housing policy presents Romney with the choice of a) being centrist himself, thereby leaving little daylight between his position and the president's; b) espousing much more conservative policies than the president, ideas such as Romney articulated last year in Las Vegas when he advocated essentially doing nothing about the foreclosure crisis and letting markets bottom on their own; or c) being vague. The trouble with espousing more conservative housing policies is that it plays perfectly into the larger narrative that the president's campaign tries to paint of Romney, namely that he's a wealthy, dispassionate businessman out of touch with the problems of ordinary people. Vagueness about his housing policy preferences is a good political tactic for Romney because it allows him to criticize the president without having to either espouse more conservative positions, which will alienate some voters, or champion centrist positions, which will make criticism of the president appear hypocritical.
So, while housing remains a big concern for most of the electorate, particularly with more than 30 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in negative equity, don't hold your breath for either candidate to talk much about the topic.