Magic Number of the Day: -37.6

Photograph by Robert Caplin/Bloomberg

Shoppers with a Hollister Co. shopping bag in New York.

That’s the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index (CCI) for the week ended June 3.

The index, which asks people to rate the national economy, their personal finances and the buying climate, rose for the third straight week, a break from the losing trend of the past several weeks.

The CCI increased to -37.6 from -39.3 in the prior period, on its scale of -100 to +100.

The number is close to the year average of -38.8, but it has climbed 6 points since reaching an almost four-month low in mid-May.

So what might this mean for the election?

Take a look at the CCI in the first week of June 2004, when George W. Bush was president. It stood at -19. How about the first week of June 1996, when Bill Clinton occupied the White House? Then it was -10. And in both cases, the incumbent was re-elected five months later.

But in June 1992, when George H. W. Bush was president, the CCI stood at -39, similar to today’s -37.6. Bush lost his bid for re-election that year.

That being said, keep it in mind that the trajectory of the index can be almost as important as the number itself. The number appears to be rebounding a bit, at least over the past three weeks. It’s been above -40, the level associated with deep economic discontent, for the past two weeks. And it was above -40 for 12 weeks in a row from mid-February to late April.

If the trajectory continues on a positive trend, things look good for Obama’s chances; if the spike is temporary and the index begins to trend downward or stays level, Republican Mitt Romney’s chances may improve.

Just how those numbers play out were likely on the candidates’ minds last night as President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney once again hit the campaign trail, raising money and talking about the economic challenges facing the country. Obama acknowledged that “this is going to be a tough race precisely because the economy’s not where it needs to be yet,” while Romney said Tuesday’s Wisconsin governor-recall vote results may boost his chances.

Bloomberg’s Bill McQuillen takes a closer look at labor’s loss in Wisconsin, and how it may tempt other governors to target public-worker benefits, while Tim Jones and Mark Niquette ask whether Governor Scott Walker’s healing cookout is too late, with wounds that run too deep.

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