The Market as Predictor: Obama Souvenir Sales Slump Along With Obama Economy

Forget the polls and the focus groups. Forget the tedious chatter of elitist pundits or the pious dreck of pompous editorialists. The Washington Times reports that sales of Obama memorabilia and souvenirs are in a “tailspin” as the nation’s economy continues to stall out.

In a downtown D.C. gift shop, a table teems with T-shirts, squared off and neatly folded. On one row: an iconic pop art-inspired image of President Obama, culled from a campaign poster, atop the one-word caption “Hope.” On the next: a smiling, waving George W. Bush, backed by the U.S. flag, behind a caption asking, “Miss Me Yet?”

One nation. Two shirts.

Polls, focus groups and fundraising tallies have their place — but if you really want to take the electorate’s pulse, go souvenir shopping. Money talks, and as the economy limps, our leaders snipe, and the rough beast of our divided government slouches toward next year’s presidential election, the political memorabilia tills have a tale to tell: For the president, it’s a scary one.

Makes sense. If Obama-themed stuff isn’t selling very well, that certainly doesn’t portend well for his reelection bid next year. If you can’t sell the Tee-shirts or the Bobble-heads, you’re probably gonna have a hard time selling the candidate too.

Downtown shopkeepers and cart vendors near the Mall said last week that Obama-related sales had significantly slowed — in part because of a traditional August tourism lull, in part due to the president’s sagging approval ratings.

Before Mr. Obama’s inauguration, his Gallup poll approval ratings hovered between 60 and 70 percent. The corresponding souvenir market was white-hot — so much so that Jim Warlick, a memorabilia retailer who got his start hawking Ronald Reagan inaugural buttons in 1980, opened a store downtown devoted solely to the incoming president.

Now, that market is as sluggish as the nation’s economy.

As any Econ 101 student can explain, markets tell us more about the future and where we’re headed than they do about the past and where we’ve been.

If the souvenir market – and Jared Bernstein – are correct, Obama is headed for a one-term presidency.

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