Trump Campaign Seizes on Record-Breaking GDP Growth, But Data Unlikely to Sway Election

President Donald Trump's re-election team have jumped on the the record-breaking GDP figures today as the presidential election campaign enters its final stretch, but one expert has warned that the data "might not move the needle" much before polling day.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis revealed on Thursday morning that U.S. economy grew by a massive 33 percent on an annualized basis in the third quarter of this year, following a 31.4 percent dip amid COVID-19 shutdown measures in the second quarter.

Over the three months between July and September, GDP also rose by 7.4 percent on the previous quarter in the wake of 9 percent and 1.3 percent falls respectively in the second and first quarters.

But in spite of the record 33 percent annual growth figure, the U.S. economy was still found to be 3.5 percent small than at the end of 2019.

However, this did not stop Republican campaigners touting the data as a case for re-electing Trump to complete the U.S.'s gradual economic recovery from the coronavirus crash sparked in March.

President Donald Trump in Arizona
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on October 28, in Bullhead City, Arizona. Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

"The U.S. economy grew by a record historic 33.1% in the 3rd quarter of 2020," the Trump campaign Rapid Response Director Andrew Clark tweeted. "President Trump has put the USA back on the road to economic recovery!!!"

The Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also called on voters to back Trump for a second term in the White House and "keep this recovery going" in the wake of the data release.

"A 33.1% (!!!) growth in GDP (the best ever!) should end any argument about a Trump-led economic recovery," Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, said. "Donald Trump is restoring the pre-COVID economy that Americans loved! As @POTUS says... The Best is Yet to Come! #4MoreYears"

Although it is not immediately clear what impact the third quarter GDP figures may have on the election, polling has historically shown Trump's approval numbers to be strongest on the economy.

One survey of likely voters conducted by CNN and SSRS earlier this week found that a 51 percent majority of voters believed the president would do a better job of handling the economy than Biden. Another poll released by Suffolk University today showed Trump had a 3 percent net-positive approval rating on his handling of the economy.

While the latest GDP data released today could boost those numbers further, Thomas Gift, the founding director of the Center on U.S. Politics at University College London, argued that record growth in the third quarter could have little impact on the final election outcome.

"Best case scenario, indicators of economic health will still remain far below what they were pre-pandemic," Gift told Newsweek ahead of the data release. "An economy on the upswing always bodes well for the incumbent, but it has to be viewed in the context of historically bad data from Q2 and that fact that the economy still faces rocky shores ahead."

The professor added that Trump would also "struggle" to ask voters whether they better off today than they were four years ago and expect them to say "yes" as the economy was still recovering from a historic downturn.

"It's essential to point out that very few voters are still up for grabs. Not only have tens of millions of Americans already voted early, but most polls show that there are considerably fewer undecideds this year compared to 2016," Gift added. "That implies that, irrespective of the third quarter economic data, good or bad news might not move the needle much in the election."

At the time of writing, the FiveThirtyEight presidential election poll tracker shows Trump trailing his Democratic rival by 9 points, with a little under 43 percent of voters backing him on average.