Once again, today's biggest political news isn't about the Republican candidates or the President, even though the former are battling in Florida and the latter is about to give the State of the Union address. It's the latest Gallup survey, which shows economic confidence has risen sharply since August and is now at levels not seen since May. That report is consistent with the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, in which confidence in the economy reaches its highest rate in months.
To be clear, confidence is still not high. The main Gallup index reflects both how the public assesses the current economy and how it expects the economy to change. That number remains negative. And it was at roughly this level for much of 2009 and 2010, before dipping in 2011.
But, as Jonathan Bernstein points out,
When it comes to economic indicators and presidential elections, the evidence is strong that what matters are election year trends — the public’s sense of which way the economy is moving — not overall four-year performances or even absolute levels of economic strength.
In other words, come Election Day 2012, if things are improving, or if the public perceives things to be improving, the president is likely to be re-elected. Fairly or unfairly, the political science literature shows that voters don’t seem to hold a president’s economic performance earlier in his term against him. As long as things are getting better, even if they’re still overall quite bad, voters tend to support re-election.
More important: There's a reason confidence is rising. Businesses are starting to grow and people are starting to find jobs again. It's not happening quickly enough for my liking, but it's happening. As Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, "there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times."