For many Americans headed to the polls today, the economy -- and what the next president will do to help or hurt its progress -- is at the forefront of their mind.
According to an exclusive (but unscientific) poll conducted by DailyFinance and The Motley Fool, most respondents were convinced that Romney would be better for the country economically:
When asked "Who will ignite an economic boom?" Mitt Romney nabbed 66% of the votes and President Obama got 34%.
The voting for the question, "Who will doom your portfolio?" followed exactly the same line: 66% of voters chose Obama and 34% chose Romney.
So the majority opinion is clear. But does history back it up? Put another way, do Republican presidents bring the best growth and Democratic candidates bring stagnation?
Surprisingly, no. Not even close.
Baby, You're No Good for Me
Just look at recent years. George W. Bush was about as pro-business a Republican we've ever had in office. Yet stocks dropped 25.1% during his presidency.
He was followed by hardcore Democrat Barack Obama. During his presidency, the stock market has nearly doubled, adding some $7.3 trillion in market cap according to Bloomberg Businessweek as of mid-October.
Similar patterns hold true even going back to 1929. According to The Economist, stock returns for Democratic presidencies have averaged 10.8% versus just 2.7% for Republican presidents.
And it's more than just stock market returns that suffer during Republican presidencies. According to research done by Motley Fool analyst Morgan Housel and economist Robert Shiller, the worst president for stock returns, corporate profit growth, real GDP growth, inflation, and unemployment was a Republican! (Poor ol' Herbert Hoover.)
This seems like a stark contrast to each party's core tenet: Republicans look kindly on unfettered and minimally taxed free-market capitalism, while Democrats insist on higher taxes to pay for more robust government services, and stronger regulations to protect consumers and the environment.
The Illusion of Patterns
Part of the problem is that it's in our human nature to look for -- and find -- patterns, even when there aren't any.
Wilshire Analytics' managing director Bob Waid commented Fortune magazine on why this is the case with election and stock return data to, saying "There's no pattern here -- it's just random. If these were causal relationships, you would see a different pattern."
Another reason for the discrepancy is that a president can only do so much. His progress and blame must be shared with Congress (which sometimes works in opposition to his own goals.)
What's more, a new president typically inherits his predecessor's problems or enjoys the success his predecessor set him up for. Unless a second term is won, most presidents simply aren't in office long enough to see the long-term success or failure of their decisions.
Of course, each president hopes for economic success and stock market gains. And each president has industries they'll try to boost up. Meaning regardless of whether Obama or Romney wins the election, certain stocks in a few key sectors will do quite well.
So don't forget to get out and vote today -- even if we won't enjoy fruits of the winner's labors for another four years.
This article was written by Motley Fool analyst Adam J. Wiederman. Click here to read Adam's free report revealing stocks that could skyrocket after the election results are announced.