Practical analysis for investment professionals
31 August 2012

Does the US Presidential Election Impact the Stock Market?

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the outcome of this US presidential election. That uncertainty extends to the impact of US elections on stock prices, judging by the voluminous and often contradictory research on the topic.

Over the past century, which party occupies the White House has had no discernible or consistent impact on US equity markets,” writes Russ Koesterich, CFA, global chief investment strategist for BlackRock’s iShares ETF business. “Presidential election years generally have coincided with favorable markets, particularly when the incumbent party wins,” says T. Rowe Price. In a 2008 blog posted titled “Presidential Elections and the Stock Market,” Pete Davis concluded that “most of the studies show quite an advantage for equities following the election of Democrats, but a Federal Reserve study concludes there is no consistent relationship if you correct for market volatility and test back to 1852.”

Subscribe Button

The most frequently cited paper, according to Davis, is a 2003 article in the Journal of Finance by Pedro Santa-Clara, professor of finance at the Nova School of Business and Economics, and Rossen I. Valkanov, professor of finance at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego. Davis noted:

[The authors] found 9% higher stock market gains for large stocks in Democratic administrations since 1928. However, Santa-Clara and Valkanov did not correct for swings in market volatility or examine periods before the Depression, when market volatility was lower. In a 2004 paper, two Federal Reserve economists, Sean Campbell and Canlin Li, made those corrections and found that the 9% higher return dropped to 4%. They concluded that market returns don’t track with which party wins presidential elections.

A more recent article, “How Political Conventions Affect Stocks,” noted that in the 16 presidential election years since 1948, the S&P 500 rose during 11 Republican conventions (as measured from the start to the end of the convention), according to a report by S&P Capital IQ. In contrast, stocks made gains during only seven Democratic conventions.

Below is a list of additional articles that examine the link between US presidential elections (and administrations) and stock market performance.

Book jackets of Financial Market History: Reflections on the Past for Investors Today

Do Election Cycles Sway the Markets?

  • In “7 Fascinating Facts About How US Presidents Affect The Stock Markets,” editor Sam Ro briefly annotates several oft-repeated statements such as: “the third year of a President’s terms is usually the best for stocks” and “since 1900, only five presidents have seen stocks rise more than 50% during their term.” (Business Insider, March 2012)
  • A survey of US members conducted by CFA Institute poses this simple question: Will the outcome of the election have an effect on the economy? A larger-than-expected 80% of survey respondents say that it will have an important impact on the economy going forward. Good news for people hoping something, anything really, gets going in Washington to remedy our economic malaise. (Market Integrity Insights, October 2012)
  • In this podcast, Robert Stammers, CFA, talks to Michael Gayed, CFA, a co-portfolio manager at Pension Partners, to get a sense of what may happen after the election. Gayed often comments on macroeconomic trends and their effect on the capital markets. (Inside Investing, October 2012)
  • The last seven months of an election year almost always boost stockholders’ portfolios, with the market having delivered positive returns for S&P 500 stockholders in all but two election years since 1952, according to “Presidential Elections are Good for Stocks, But …” (Christian Science Monitor, February 2012)
  • In a client note, Goldman Sachs offers “3 Reasons Why US Investors Should Take Election Cycles Very Seriously.” First, the political stakes in presidential, parliamentary, or legislative elections often translate into changes in policies that can reshape the economic environment. Second, the regularity with which elections take place in most countries may give place to cyclical patterns in government and investment behavior. And third, elections can markedly increase political and social uncertainty. These three factors have the potential to affect all asset classes, especially equities, given their strong sensitivity to changes in the economic outlook. (Business Insider, February 2012)
  • In “Electoral Maths: Presidential Elections and the S&P 500,” FT editor John McDermott addresses the performance of US equities in past election years and the implications for 2012. (FT Alphaville, December 2011)
  • Back in 2010 — two years into President Obama’s first term — Jeremy Grantham, the chief investment strategist at GMO, noted that despite precarious economic growth and the fact that stocks weren’t all that cheap, in the near term, there was a good chance that the market would rally. Why? Because at the time, the US was “entering the sweet spot of the presidential election cycle” and “it’s very hard to bet against it.” As the reporter noted in “A Presidential Reason to Buy Stocks,” “a cottage industry has sifted the data going back more than a century and found that the stock market has generally done much better in the second half of a president’s four-year term than in the first.” (The New York Times, October 2010)
  • In “The Presidential Term: Is the Third Year the Charm?” the authors respond with a decisive yes, noting that their research shows “equities have generally prospered in the second half of a president’s term and especially during the third year.” (Journal of Portfolio Management, Winter 2008)
  • But in a recent radio interview, Rodney N. Sullivan, CFA, head of publications at CFA Institute and editor of the Financial Analysts Journal, told listeners that while it is “indeed true that under years three and four of a presidential cycle that stock markets tend to do better,” the data have been “misused or abused.” He offered two powerful counterexamples:  In 1933, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s very first year, stocks rose more than 50%. Under President Herbert Hoover’s third year, stocks fell almost 50%. “What really drives performance in market is not the presidential cycle, it’s really the overall macroeconomy,” Sullivan said. (Enterprising Investor, 2012)
  • The authors of the 2008 paper “Financial Astrology: Mapping the Presidential Election Cycle in U.S. Stock Markets” examined nearly four decades of stock returns and found that U.S. stock prices closely followed the four-year presidential election cycle. Stock prices generally fell during the first half of a Presidency, reaching a trough in the second year, and rose during the second half of a presidency, reaching a peak in the third or fourth year. (Social Science Research Network, October 2008)
  • In “Stock Market, Economic Performance, and Presidential Elections,” the authors utilized stock market and economic data from more than a century to examine the relationships between post-Election Day market return and economic performance during the presidential term. The authors found that after-election market movement has become increasingly more accurate in predicting future GDP growth, but not future unemployment rates. (Journal of Business & Economics Research, Second Quarter 2014)

Does the Stock Market Pick the President?

Financial Analysts Journal Latest Issue Graphic

Does It Matter Who Wins the Election?

  • A live chart (“GOP Smacked“) created by the Economist suggests it does. As the subhead says: “America’s stockmarket has gained more under Democratic than Republican presidents.” (Economist, October 2012)
  • Ron Rimkus, CFA, believes it is a fool’s game to try and tie presidents and election cycles to stock market returns. In a blog post, “Elections and Stock Prices: Assessing the Impact Is an Exercise in Futility,” he writes: “Oftentimes, we hear pundits ask: What US presidents were good for the stock market? How did the markets respond to a particular president? Or what political party has had more success in the markets? All of these questions are doomed to failure. Is it not possible for a president of one party to enact a policy typically favored by another party?” Rimkus notes that “most academic work ignores the vast differences and underlying nature of specific policies. So, the whole exercise of using statistical analysis to claim one party is better for the stock market than another is merely an exercise in . . . you guessed it . . . politics.” (Enterprising Investor, 2012)
  • Bloomberg News asserts that “Stocks Return More With Democrat in White House” based on the fact that the BGOV Barometer from Bloomberg Government showed that over the five decades since John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, $1,000 invested in a hypothetical fund tracking the S&P 500 only when Democrats were in the White House would have been worth $10,920 at the close of trading on 21 February 2012  (the day before the article ran). A $1,000 stake invested in a fund that followed the S&P 500 under Republican presidents, starting with Richard M. Nixon, would have grown to $2,087 on the day that George W. Bush left office. (Bloomberg News, February 2012)

Have you seen any interesting articles on how the presidential elections affect stock market performance? Share the links below.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated 9 September 2015.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to subscribe to the Enterprising Investor.

All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

White House photo from Shutterstock.

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster was a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

12 thoughts on “Does the US Presidential Election Impact the Stock Market?”

  1. Anisley says:

    Loved it as you made it short and simple.Thanks for such a wonderful information I am looking forward to read your informative post.

  2. Scott says:

    A well-written, well-researched, concise and balanced article – how refreshing. As a short-term trader I was searching for the immediate impact of the announcement but this was good to stumble on.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you for your informative article. This reminded me of another article that I read on statistics of past presidential effects on the market:

    You’ll have to decide for yourself which party did better in the long run.

  4. Great info. Lucky me I came across your blog
    by accident (stumbleupon). I have book-marked it for later!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.