Presidential Election Outlook: Will Americans Vote for Hope and P.F. Chang's?

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P.F. ChangsJust a few short months ago, the presidential aspirations of former Gov. Mitt Romney seemed little more than a pipe dream. Having counted himself out of consideration by "47%" of the voters, victory looked like a mathematical impossibility.

No longer.

According to a recent "poll-of-polls" conducted by Real Clear Politics, the governor now edges out the president by a 0.9% spread -- 47.9 to 47.0 -- and leads in twice as many individual polls (e.g., Rasmussen, ABC News, AP, Politico) as he lags (CBS, Washington Times), to boot.

October Surprise

Do these numbers surprise you? They shouldn't. Just a couple of months ago, we here at DailyFinance introduced you to a new, somewhat off-the-wall, gauge of presidential-electoral success: The "Restaurant Sales" index.

Operating on the premise that Democrats are from Starbucks and Republicans are from Visa, and based on research highlighted in the L.A. Times, we took a look at several retail restaurant chains said to be favored by patrons from one political party or the other ...

the politics of eating out

And then we asked: Which chains have the most sales mojo going into voting season? Who's gaining in popularity, and could the fact that Chick-fil-A is seating more Republicans at its tables lately mean that tables are about to turn against President Obama as well?

What the Data Showed

Let's recap. Working off a Scarborough study of where likely voters tend to eat, we took the restaurant names above and compared their most recent quarterly sales data to how sales were trending last year. As described in the previous column, our theory was: "If a restaurant is doing well, and growing its sales strongly, then it stands to reason lots of people -- lots of voters -- are visiting said restaurant. And if this is the case, then perhaps the politics with which the restaurant is associated are also gaining favor."

Two months ago, results were mixed, but eateries favored by Romney-backers did appear to have an edge over restaurants leaning Democrat. As a result, we opined: "Pollsters showing President Obama continuing to hold a lead over Governor Romney may be in for a surprise."

Since then, the trend has become even more pronounced. These past few weeks, we've been hard at work, tallying up sales results as various publicly traded restaurant chains reported their third-quarter earnings results (all available for perusal on the SEC's website). Below we lay out a table showing you how the numbers looked back then, how they look now, and which party stands to benefit most from the growth in restaurant sales:

Politics restaurants

Chewing over the numbers

So how do things look today, two months after we first proposed this rather unusual "poll"?

With less than a week to go before voters pick their next president, we're seeing continued sales strength nearly across the board at Republic eateries (Bob Evans excepted). Democrat hang-outs The Cheesecake Factory and Dunkin' Donuts are doing just fine, too -- but not nearly as well as Republican strongholds Panera and Cracker Barrel.

Result: Based on the numbers, we're hereby going on record with a prediction: Mitt Romney wins the 2012 presidential election in a squeaker (or perhaps a "slider").*

*Caveat: Invented less than 100 days ago, this polling method has never been tested, much less backtested. It has a 0% record of historical accuracy -- but has also never been wrong. Margin of error is estimated at 100%.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned above. He's a big fan of Cracker Barrel's chicken and dumplings, but also partial to Dunkin' Donuts coffee -- so politically, you can label him a swing eater.

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