One of the truths of political campaigns is we almost never know what really drove the outcome until the election is over, and even then we often don't because myths set in and the analysts move on to the new state of politics created by the election. Before the vote, we, of course, have hourly musings on what is driving the polls and what factors may be decisive, and I will continue to add my share of bits and bytes. All I can say is that I am wise enough to to say I don't know when asked who is going to win and why. But it doesn't stop the flow of ideas and speculation, which is why politics can make for good spectating.
Here's a theory: Obama may win this election because of the rebounding satisfaction and confidence of a group of voters one might think more logically belong to Mitt Romney: investors in the stock market. I have argued before that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is an underrated barometer of political sentiment, and it is at multi-year highs. And this surge in the stock market is clearly having an impact on investor confidence, which in turn affects investors’ view of how the country is faring. Several new surveys out today lend credence to this belief. (Credit to Ben White of Politico for pulling these together.
A poll from the Center for Audit Quality (conducted by my firm but without the speculation I am offering here) notes that American investors are somewhat optimistic about the direction of the economy: 70 percent believe it will either stay the same or improve. A JP MorganChase report released today says that twice as many Americans today (64 percent) believe our economy has either bottomed out or is already improving than did respondents in last year's poll (33 percent). Finally, A Morgan Stanley index of business conditions jumped 18 points in September, reflecting greater confidence from a variety of sectors of the economy.
The irony of all this data is fascinating to me. Romney clearly sees his path to victory as still possible while writing off the 47 percent of Americans who are much less likely to be significant investors than the other 53 percent. But among those 53 percent, a significant number are starting to regain some confidence in the overall economy and their personal financial situation, which cools their anger toward President Obama and makes Romney's job much harder. Meanwhile, Obama's more natural constituency is struggling, but, like a bad investment, Mitt Romney has already written them off.