For the past year, as the presidential election unfolded, President Barack Obama confronted a dizzying swell of economic news — hiring up, hiring down, a euro crisis abroad, seesawing gasoline prices at the pump, foreclosures dragging down home values.
Six weeks before the election, those highs and lows are merging into a straighter line which, while below optimum performance, is moving in a positive direction for the country and for the president in his contest with Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Consumer confidence is at its highest level since February. Home values are up and, more important in the election season, housing prices in 20 major cities, many of them in battleground states, rose in July. Despite recent declines, the stock market has been on an upswing, adding value to Americans’ 401(k) retirement plans.
Improving consumer confidence is certainly a positive sign for Obama, who has faced a slow economic recovery and a stubbornly high unemployment rate that has remained above 8 percent since virtually the start of his presidency. The consumer confidence index, as measured by The Conference Board, jumped from 61.3 for August to 70.3 for September, though it remains well below 90, the level that is thought to signify a healthy economy.
The numbers track with recent public opinion polls showing that while a majority of Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction, an increasing number say the country is on the right path. The rising optimism also coincides with polls showing Obama opening leads in some crucial swing states, including all-important Ohio.
If Obama’s advantage holds through Election Day, September may be remembered as a pivotal month when political and economic attitudes began to gel.
A weak recovery still makes the economy vulnerable, and public opinion can still change during the critical month of October. Three debates next month between Obama and Romney have the potential of shaking up the race. And the stock market showed its fickleness Tuesday with its worst sell-off since June after a Federal Reserve official cast doubt on the effectiveness of the central bank’s recent economy-boosting measures.
But with early voting already under way in some states and with a shrinking number of persuadable voters, Obama aides see a favorable political landscape despite Romney’s focus on sluggish growth.
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