COMMENTARY | If there is one factor in the upcoming election that stands to impact the voting among the independents and the undecided, it is the performance of the economy. A poorly performing or declining economy just might be enough to boost Mitt Romney to victory over the incumbent, Barack Obama. Unfortunately for Romney, Americans have become more optimistic about the economy. Worse, the optimism has been trending upward since last year.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday, 60 percent of those surveyed believe that economic conditions a year from now will be good. A similar poll asking the same question in October revealed Americans had a more bleak outlook, where only 39 percent felt that economic conditions would be better in a year.
At the same time, Americans still do not presently see the economy as in good shape. In fact, 73 percent said that the economic conditions in the country were poor. However, last October that number stood at 86 percent.
And although it would seem unpatriotic or simply cold-hearted to hope for a poorly performing, declining, or even failing economy, such conditions could prove far more beneficial to the Romney campaign, which has staked much of its opposition to President Obama’s re-election on the administration’s jobs and economics policies. In short, the message has been: If the economy continues to progress sluggishly or begins to decline, then voting for Romney, a tested businessman and former governor, would be a better choice in November.
When asked which candidate would handle the economy better, respondents to the CNN/ORC poll were split at 48 percent.
Sagging economic numbers could give the Romney an edge going into the election in November. At present, head-to-head polls tracked by Real Clear Politics for the past few weeks have shown President Obama with a slight percentage lead in most, Romney in the lead in a few — almost all falling in the margin of error.
With reports of fewer people being laid off and more people being hired in June, it doesn’t appear that Romney will be aided by a worsening unemployment rate, either.
So a trend in economic optimism might be the worst news the Romney camp could get just four months out from the national election.
But there is something that must be considered. Although the polls have shown a drastic shift in the level of optimism about the future of the American economy, those same polls do not indicate why the trend has been toward more optimism. Taking a look at the general positive — if sluggish — momentum the economy has enjoyed for the last couple years, the optimism trend could very well be a reflection of a general feeling that President Obama has done an adequate job of steering the nation’s economic course and could lead the country to better economic conditions by July 2013.
But there could be another side to that optimism. Given the proximity of the national election, many might simply feel that a change in leadership could be the answer to spur a healthier economic recovery. The optimism could be a reflection of a Romney presidency projection.
Of course, the optimism trend in the polls could also be an indication that the public feels that after an election year spent politicking and doing what amounts to nothing with regard to legislation affecting unemployment and the economy, Congress and the President (no matter who gets elected) might actually do something proactive.
Sometimes what at first appears to be bad news just might be good news in disguise. Still, with all things remaining equal (and poll after poll shows that the candidates are in a neck-and-neck race to November), optimism about good economic conditions in the future would appear to bode ill for Romney’s chances of becoming president.