Forget about October surprises. Hurricane Sandy is an October Black Swan. And given a dead-heat 2012 presidential election, there’s already plenty of speculation aboput how it might impact what happens Nov. 6. I think the consensus is that it helps President Obama. This tweet from British journalist Toby Harden is typical: “Hard to see right now how #Sandy benefits Romney – he cedes stage to Obama & is unable to boost what momentum he may have in OH, FL, WI etc.”
Obama as Commander-in-Chief in a time of national emergency, not just a beleaguered incumbent presiding over a worst-ever economic recovery. The rally-around-the flag phenomenon. People looking to government for help. Beyond psychology, it might also help Obama since he seems to be leading among early voters,and the aftermath of the superstorm might prevent Romney voters from getting to the polls next Tuesday.
But the other side of that trade is this: Millions of Americans are being forced to spend lots of money on hurricane preparations — extra food, flashlights, batteries generators, plywoood, hotels — at time when they are trying to rebuild their savings. Millions of Americans whose incomes and take-home pay fell not only during the Great Recession but also during the Not-So-Great Recovery — or as I put it, the Long Recession. These unexpected expenditures might well remind many of a) how precarious their financial situation is and b) how they’re not back to even despite a supposed three-year economic rebound.
And if you think Romney is ahead, Sandy might well freeze the race to his advantage.
But since this sort of disaster before Election Day is, I believe, unprecedented, one theory is about as valid as the next. My guess, though, is that this historic washout, from a political perspective, will be a wash.