Why the Election Is Bad News for Retailers

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016.
Photograph by Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

Election stress is a real thing. And it could hurt retailers as the holiday shopping season gets under way next week.

A National Retail Federation survey found that a majority of Americans will be cautious about Christmas shopping this year, with many possibly pulling back on spending, because of anxiety over the Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump presidential contest. What’s more, it’s hard for retailers to get a word in edgewise these days, potentially making their marketing less effective.

“Everywhere you turn — whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television — political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.

In a NRF flash poll conducted last week, more than 25% of consumers say the election will affect their spending. What’s more, 43% say they are being more cautious with their spending because of uncertainty around the election season.

Target (TGT) said earlier this week it was tweaking its holiday season marketing ahead of the November 8 election.

Indeed, many retailers, including Barnes & Noble (BKS) and HSNi (Home Shopping Network) (HSNI),and restaurant chains Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts have blamed consumer concerns about the rancor of the presidential campaign for sluggish sales.

At the same time, the NRF and indeed the largest retailers, predict consumers will shake it off and turn out in droves immediately after. The NRF is sticking to its forecast for retail spending rising 3.6% in November and December, which would make the 2016 holiday season the best in years. (That excludes gas, car and restaurant spending.)

“There is going to be election noise and we’ve all looked at and talked about it, but I think we’re entering the holiday season with a consumer who is feeling good about the state of play,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told Fortune earlier this week.

And Target’s larger rival feels the same way. Walmart U.S. Chief Merchant Steve Bratspies said there would be adjustments to the chain’s marketing in the first days of November in some markets but “nothing significant.”

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