Debates in Arizona, the latest Michigan polls, delegate counts, Mitt Romney’s latest attacks on Rick Santorum…even the policy commitments that Romney and Barack Obama are making right now: They’re all interesting, and many of them are important.

But if you really want to know who is going to win in November, what you should be paying attention to is the economics news. The economy doesn’t determine everything, but it does set up the playing field.

So today’s biggest election news is probably the continuing rise in consumer confidence, with new numbers coming out from the University of Michigan monthly survey. It’s still not exactly healthy, but it’s moving in the right direction. We could also look at the Dow slipping to the good side of the 13,000 mark as good news for the president, but the rapid rise of gas prices as bad news for him.

The research on these things tells us to pay a lot more attention to overall numbers (changes in GDP, personal income, and employment) rather than reading the tea leaves of individual items. Gas prices and the Dow probably don’t have any direct effect on voting. But if you believe that getting clobbered at the pump will translate into economic hardship, well, then it certainly could be important.

Around the margins, the day-to-day campaigning could certainly make a difference, especially if the election is otherwise very close. But the general outline of the election begins and ends with the economy. And there, today’s news is that things seem to be looking up.