The last 14 presidents divide neatly into seven Democrats and seven Republicans.
On Tuesday, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt took a major number summarizing the economy, the annual growth of the Gross Domestic Project, and compared how the GDP growth rate fared under each of those presidents during their entire incumbency.
The result is fairly devastating to the Republicans on the list, as a group. The four presidents with the best economic performance were all Democrats. Of the four worst, three out of four were Republicans.
It should be noted that the analysis dates back to FDR, which was a gift to the Republicans, since FDR’s predecessor, Republican Herbert Hoover, was in office when the Great Depression started.
But including Hoover might have been a favor to the most recent Republican president, Donald Trump, because without the Hoover economic numbers in the mix, Trump’s economy ranks as the worst of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt replaced Hoover 88 years ago in 1932.
Of course the COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to Trump’s bad numbers. And Trump didn’t exactly create COVID. But, given his atrocious leadership on the COVID-fighting front, taking the conversation down that front (as he tried to do during the campaign) didn’t do him much good.
Overall, and this is pretty staggering, the annual GDP growth rate under Democratic presidents was almost exactly twice as high as under Republicans. (The actual numbers for the seven Dems combined was 4.6 percent GDP growth per year, compared to 2.4 percent for Repubs.)
Of course, Republican defenders have plenty of general points they could make in rebuttal. For example, often a president inherits a mess from his predecessor, and the economy can only recover so fast. But that logic works both ways. And this pattern is so big and so steady that you’ll have to do a whole lot of high-steppin’ and fast talkin’ to reconcile the overall outcome of the comparison, which the Times columnist David Leonhardt summarizes thus:
A president has only limited control over the economy. And yet there has been a stark pattern in the United States for nearly a century. The economy has grown significantly faster under Democratic presidents than Republican ones.
It’s true about almost any major indicator: gross domestic product, employment, incomes, productivity, even stock prices. It’s true if you examine only the precise period when a president is in office, or instead assume that a president’s policies affect the economy only after a lag and don’t start his economic clock until months after he takes office. The gap “holds almost regardless of how you define success,” two economics professors at Princeton, Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, write. They describe it as “startlingly large.”
The full opinion piece is here. It’s a rather surprising counter to what you might call the overall stereotype of the two parties, which I would say portrays the Republicans as better at making the economy grow, versus Democrats who are more inclined to distribute the proceeds of that growth to help those in need.