(2) The economy continues to improve. Elections are referenda on the party in power, but the most salient aspect of an incumbent’s performance when choosing whether to vote “yea” or “nay” is the state of the economy, particularly the state of the economy in the second quarter of the election year.
This election is tricky in that respect. Growth in the second quarter, as the pandemic started taking its toll, was abysmal, in such a way that we have no historical comparison for it, at least for time periods where we have good data. Yet growth in the third quarter appears to be explosive, potentially wiping away most of the contraction that occurred in the second quarter. There is simply no precedent for this either.
Perhaps because of the unusually strong growth in the third quarter, or because people appreciate the unique reason for the economic contraction in the second quarter (i.e. we shut everything down to try and slow a virus), the president’s approval rating on the economy has rebounded, and he is once again viewed positively on the economy. Perhaps more importantly, as you can see on page 16 of this release, he is now trusted more than Joe Biden on the economy by a 52%-44% margin, a reversal from the early summer.
We should be careful not to be reductionist. Voters don’t only vote on the economy, and Biden leads Trump on most other issues. But if Trump were to win, changing perceptions of his performance on the economy would likely be a key reason why.