While the economy only represents one motivating factor behind why people vote, an election pitting a businessman against a career politician puts an added focus on it.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has based much of his campaign on his business success and the wealth that has brought him. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton can't claim the same business success (though she has made tens of millions in the private sector), but she can point to a record of political economic accomplishments dating back to the robust economy when her husband, Bill, spent eight years as president.
Trump wants people to believe that his business success translates into a stronger economy for everyone. Clinton wants the voting public to support her based on her political experience, her past record, and her knowledge of how the process works.
That may be a gross oversimplification of how both candidates view things, but ultimately it's reasonable to say Trump and Clinton will have very different approaches to the economy. That may not be the deciding factor in how many people vote, but in a Motley Fool Twitter poll taken after the first presidential debate, a slight majority of people believed Trump would be better for the economy.
In the non-scientific poll, which was up for 24 hours after the debate, 35% of the 3,844 people who voted said the United States economy would perform better under Trump while 33% thought it would do better under Clinton. Another 27% of those polled felt it would do better under "neither" while 5% chose "either."
The U.S. economy would perform better under which presidential candidate? #debatenight— The Motley Fool (@themotleyfool) September 27, 2016
What does this mean?
In many ways, an online poll means very little, but it's reasonable to think that people who follow the Fool on Twitter generally have some level of financial knowledge or at least interest.
The results found in this poll do not suggest that the respondents plan to vote for Trump as the economy is only one issue, but it does show that some believe his business experience offers him an advantage over Clinton's political experience.
And while the Fool poll was open to everyone, results change depending on who is asked. Lindsey Cummins, CEO of Winq, a social polling app for millennials, said her organization did a post-debate poll with very different results.
"When asked if they absolutely had to choose who would be better for the economy, Trump or Clinton, 56% of our users chose Clinton," she told the Fool via email. "When asked if they're comfortable with either Trump or Clinton's economic plans, 71% said they are not."
That's a qualified win for Clinton given that "if they absolutely had to choose," they would pick her -- not exactly a ringing endorsement. Winq, according to Cummins, has a "heavily female-skewed" audience between the ages of 18-34. "Over 10,000 of its members were polled and between 4-5,000 voted," she noted.
Stability matters to business people
While you'd think the business world would overwhelmingly support one of their own, there's a key reason why many of them would support Clinton. It's not her policies, Josh Green, co-founder and CEO of Panjiva, a resource for global trade data and analysis, told the Fool via email. It's her representing less of a change.
"What the business community wants most from our political system is stability," he said. "There's a reason why so many business leaders are supporting Clinton -- because, if she's elected, it is very likely that our economic system will look much the same as it does today."
Green went on to explain that Trump has not helped his case with business leaders because he has openly talked about making large changes.
"Trump represents uncertainty," he said. "Would he actually rip up trade deals and unwind political alliances? If so, he may well throw our economic system into chaos by disrupting supply chains that have been built over decades. This uncertainty is terrifying to many in the business community -- particularly those whose businesses operate internationally."
Brian Sterz, an investment advisor at L.A.-based Miracle Mile Advisors, backed up what Green said in a separate interview with the Fool.
"Markets like certainty, which allows participants to confidently allocate capital over long periods of time," he said. "When there is uncertainty, especially as it applies to regulation, tax, and monetary policy, investors' time horizons shorten, projects are postponed, and markets slow down until more is known."
Sterz also said that an active government tends to historically hurt the economy. He noted that presidents who intervene the least tend to be the best for the economy.
"An analysis of historical market returns suggest that administrations that preside over a Congress controlled by the rival party tend to produce the highest returns," he said. "From this perspective, Hillary Clinton offers the most continuity relative to the current administration."
Trump, according to Sterz, is damaged by the thing that has made him attractive to many voters. He's not part of the status quo and he intends to make changes. "Donald Trump offers more of an unknown at this point," he wrote.
Which candidate is best for the economy?
If you believe history, it's the one who will interfere with the economy the least. Given that Republicans will presumably maintain control of Congress, that would likely be Clinton because she will have very little ability to make changes with a GOP-controlled House and Senate.
That's a sobering view of things and basically suggests that the less effective a president is, the better the economy does.