Here's a relatively cheery bit of economic data: Consumer confidence in the United States has risen sharply over the past month. The Conference Board's much-watched index rose to 70.3 in September, up markedly from 61.3 in August. Morgan Stanley offers up a historical chart:
Americans still aren't quite as sanguine as they were during the late 1990s — or even as they were in 2007, just before the financial crisis sent the economy careening. But there's a clear uptick of late.
So what's driving this spike? One obvious possibility is that the economy is improving and consumers are feeling upbeat. Another theory is that consumer confidence is a largely useless economic statistic that simply tracks the stock market, which is the indicator that flashes on television most frequently. But a third possibility is that the confidence boom is mainly driven by the election and partisan politics. Check out this chart from Gallup:
Independents have grown slightly more confident about the economy, Republicans have soured a bit. But Democrats are getting downright ebullient. Perhaps they're taking cues from President Obama, who has been emphasizing the country's economic progress over the past four years, whereas Republicans tend to agree with Mitt Romney's assessment that the nation has been struggling. Or perhaps something else is going on. Either way, there's a clear partisan split in Americans' assessment of the overall economy.