Today's GDP number was the last big economic report before the election. But that top-line number showing that growth slowed to 1.6 percent from May to September vs. 2.6 percent in the previous quarter isn't the one to watchat least not if you are trying guess what voters will be thinking on November 7. Drill a little deeper and you'll find that:
Consumer spending increased by 3.1 percent.
Real disposable personal income increased 3.7 percent, compared with an increase of 1.7 percent in the second quarter.
One conclusion you can draw from those stats is that the consumer is in pretty decent shape despite the housing slowdown. Indeed, right after the GDP report came out, the University of Michigan released its consumer confidence index. It surged to 93.6 in October, a big gain of 8.2 points from September. (Thanks, impossibly vast international oil conspiracy!) It is now at the highest level since just before Hurricane Katrina in July 2005, notes economist Brian Bethune at Global Insight. Even home-buying attitudes improved.
Will this improving economic sentiment bolster the GOP? It does look like the polls are tightening, so perhaps. (Even the GOP's dismal betting market numbers seem to be crawling out of their crater.)
But consider this: It's a rough rule of thumb that whenever real disposable personal income rises 4 percent or more, it's good for incumbents. And it's just about where RDPI is right now. Good, but the smart money is still on R's holding the Senate and D's narrowly taking the House.
If there is any sign of a shift in that thinking, it might show up in the trading action of Sallie Mae stock. The student loan company is thought to be a big loser if the Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress, since Pelosi & Co. want to cut student loan interest rates. The stock tanked all summer but picked up in September. It then tanked again after the Mark Foley scandal broke. Today is the first day it's been down all week.