For Stock Market, Election Years Are Often Mixed Bag

Jeff Cox, |Special to CNBC.com

When it comes to politics, the stock market isn't as fickle about who sits in the White House as it is about who rules Congress.


Conventional wisdom has it that the market generally prefers Republicans in the Oval Office, and that's often used as a wedge during presidential election season when GOP candidates court Wall Street-friendly voters.

But it isn't always the case.

"The importance isn't necessarily who's in the White House but who's on Capitol Hill," said Jeff Hirsch, editor at Stock Trader's Almanac. "And it's been a better combination when we've had a Republican Congress regardless of the president."

In fact, the market has actually fared better with Democratic presidents so long as there is the counterweight of a GOP-led Congress.

Since the end of World War II, Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks have grown an average of 14.7 percent with the Democratic-Republican schism between the White House and Congress. By contrast, when Democrats rule both governmental branches the Dow has gained just 6.9 percent.

The data, combined with political realities in this election year, could be bad news for bulls.

Wall St. Nervous About Super Tuesday

First off, Wall Street historically performs better in pre-election years than election years, pointing to bad things for 2008 after a dismal 2007, Hirsch said.

And few analysts expect the Democrats to lose control of Congress, which has historically meant lower stocks regardless of the president. On the plus side, though, the latest futures trading suggests Republican John McCain as the best bet to succeed President Bush, but that still doesn't please some analysts who see McCain as more of a centrist anyway.

"Either way our taxes are going up," Andrew Bush, of BMO Capital Markets, said on "Squawk Box" "McCain's not going to be able to control a Democratic Congress. That's the key issue for the markets going forward."

The news doesn't get any better for next year.

Hirsch said the markets usually suffer the year after an election if the party in power loses the White House, placing 2009 potentially in the eye of a perfect political storm for a down year due to the strength of the Democratic candidates

The good news is there are strategies the wise investor can take under such difficult political circumstances.

Hirsch's Almanac is advising plays on the media sector due to the phenomenal amounts of money that will be spent on air time this year. Specifically, he suggests buying into the Powershares Dynamic Media Portfolio exchange-traded fund.

Also, he likes the Market Vectors Nuclear Energy ETF because of how much time candidates are spending to trumpet their alternative energy plans.

"There have been some decent election year and also some nasty ones," Hirsch said. "What we've seen is there's a couple of sensibilities that go with the handicapping of the outcome of the election. You can play the market in a variety of ways."