Romney is fighting a rising tide of economic good cheer, even if the numbers don't quite justify it
As if Mitt Romney’s campaign managers didn’t have enough to worry about, what with lousy poll numbers, mean Republican pundits, and the 47 percent video backlash, Tuesday morning delivered possibly the worst news yet: confirmation that Americans are feeling better about the state of the U.S. economy.
U.S. consumer confidence jumped to its highest level in seven months in September as Americans were more optimistic about the job market and income prospects, a private sector report showed on Tuesday.
The news confirms what media outlets have been reporting for weeks: Romney is fighting a rising tide of economic good cheer. That’s dire news for Mitt, since his entire campaign strategy is built on the premise that voters will blame Obama for high unemployment and stagnant economic growth.
But it also poses a bit of a puzzler. Because, er, unemployment is still stubbornly high and economic growth is very slow. The available data do not support a slam dunk case for brightening economic prospects. Gas prices are up, manufacturing has been slumping for several months, the last monthly jobs report was a disappointment and the number of new jobless claims has risen over the last two weeks.
Most convincing of all — one week and a half ago, the Federal Reserve announced a major program of monetary stimulus to boost economic growth. There is simply no way to interpret the Fed’s move other than as a vote of no-confidence in the economy.
So why are Americans feeling chipper?
There are a couple of obvious reasons. First, the housing market is off the gurney. Prices are up, housing starts are up, sales of existing homes are rising, builder confidence is rising, and mortgage delinquencies are down. Each month this year has delivered additional evidence that housing is no longer a drag on the U.S. economy.
Second — the stock market is hovering near a five-year high. The overall percentage of Americans invested in the stock market has fallen from its 1998 peak of 60 percent down to 53 percent in 2012 for understandable reasons, but the psychological impact of rising stock prices is still a relatively broad-based phenomenon. 401Ks, IRAs, college funds — they’re all flusher than they’ve been for years.
When your home and your 401K start appreciating in value, you’re going to feel better about the world. But the most fascinating statistic about economic confidence seems to prove that this recent outbreak of optimism has nothing to do with the economy. Because it’s almost entirely partisan.
Polling conducted by Gallup on attitudes toward the economy shows a steady rise in confidence on the part of Democrats. Since the beginning of September, Democratic confidence has surged. Republican confidence in the economy, in contrast, remains abysmally low. Independents are bouncing around, but are still much less likely to feel good about the economy than Democrats.
The rise in economic confidence on the part of Democrats correlates very nicely with Obama’s post-convention polling. It suggests that the Obama campaign’s successful ability to reenergize its supporters with a rousing convention has translated into a generalized sense of high spirits.
There’s a warning buried there. A sharp downward turn in some key economic indicators — perhaps a disastrous labor report for the month of September — could easily puncture the glee. So Romney’s campaign managers shouldn’t give up hope. But their dismay is understandable. Because it might be as simple as this: Democrats may be feeling better about the economy because they think they’re going to win.
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Two-for-one for Everyone — West Wind Solano Twin Drive-In, Concord, Calif. This family-friendly attraction with several spots across the U.S. (including California, Nevada and Arizona) prides itself on offering first-run double features (save for premiere events) on the cheap — which is quite the deal, considering their 65-foot screens are among the biggest in the biz. And if you have great car speakers, even better: squawk boxes of old have been replaced with Dolby quality audio piped through your car’s FM stereo.
For the Four-legged Friendly — Warwick Drive-In, Warwick, N.Y. Northeast city slickers looking for a place to watch their favorite movie stars under the stars need only veer six miles east of Vernon, N.J. What began as a family affair in 1950 has since become a seasonal institution offering rural and urban (and pet!) audiences two movies for the price of one on any of its three giant screens.
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See Stars Collide — Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn, Mich. Open year-round (unlike many of its surviving contemporaries), this five-screen staple of the Midwest known as the “largest drive-in in the world” plays host for up to 3,000 cars on any given night. And if the double-feature doesn’t hold your attention, relax; you’ve got the best (car)seat in the house for the occasional overhead meteor shower.
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A Hole (Lot of Fun) in One — Wellfleet Drive-In, Wellfleet, Mass.Built in 1957 and still offering original mono sound boxes for those looking for an authentic experience (or not, as FM stereo is available as well), the summer-exclusive theater hosts double features of first-runs on its giant 100’ x 44’ screen. Come for the movies, stay for the mini-golf and flea market (on select days).
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Go Big or Drive Home — Bengies Drive-In, Baltimore, Md. The only thing bigger than Bengies’ prolific history (57 years and going) is its main attraction — boasting the biggest theater screen in the U.S. at 6,240 square feet. That’s 52’ x 120’ of pure anamorphic presentation. Complementing its time capsule of a snack bar (unchanged since ’56), previews old and new occupy the venue’s old-timey intermissions between features.
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Proof That Film is Forever — Shankweilers, Orefield, Pa. While we’re on superlative street, consider stopping at this roadside treasure: America’s oldest drive-in. Operating since 1934, it may not have the frills and pony rides of nearby Becky’s Drive-In, but it’s defied hurricanes and the wear and tear of time. Worth the one-hour drive from Philly.
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The Gritty Hollywood Reboot — Corral Drive-In, Guymon, Okla. Like a slasher movie menace that died (several times) in the ’80s only to be rebooted years after, the long-vacant Corral Drive-In was resurrected and restored in 2009, providing big entertainment at a nominal fee. And if the $6 adult admission doesn’t make you feel like a kid again, the venue’s inflatable bouncers most definitely will.
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Hop the Healthy Highway — Delsea Drive-In, Vineland, N.J. Less than an hour’s trip from Atlantic City, New Jersey’s only drive-in offers the best of both worlds — old school aesthetic outfitted with modern tech and healthier food choices to boot. Open seasonally, with first features beginning around dusk.
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Bring Your Backyard to the Big Screen — Starlight Six Drive-In, Atlanta, Ga. As much a backdoor barbecue as it is a night out at the movies, this six-screen Atlanta drive-in encourages what most in the theater biz forbid: bringing your own food and grilling it. Those looking to add a hip twist of the theatrical to their Labor Day getaway need only stock the cooler and pack some brats or burgers for the Starlight’s annual “Drive-Invasion,” which features a hot-rod show, live music, and B-movies galore.
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And really, what better way is there to cruise the nostalgia highway of old Hollywood than in a MINI Roadster? Allowing all the headroom one needs to see the stars on the screen and those directly above, the 2013 convertible goes the distance where it counts — on the road (obviously), not to mention the discerning driver’s wallet. Never mind that its fun-size frame also makes motoring in and out of tight traffic all the more enjoyable (or parking in even tighter spots for cozy romantics all the more convenient).
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