Economy Always Does Better Under the Democrats

By Anthony Cave on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.

Hillary Clinton claimed the economy always does better under Democratic presidents at a rally in Phoenix last month.

Hillary Clinton talked big about the economy, including raising the minimum wage and equal pay for women, at a rally ahead of Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election.

“The economy always does better when there’s a Democrat in the White House,” Clinton said March 21 at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix.

The Clinton family love these comparisons, by the way. In 2015, PolitiFact ruled Mostly True claims from Hillary Clinton a claim that ,”Under Republicans, recessions happen four times as frequently as under Democrats,” and another that, “The stock market does better when you have a Democratic president in the White House.” At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton had this statement rated True: “Since 1961 … our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 (million).”

The score, however, isn’t as good for this particular Clinton claim.

Other factors involved

Clinton’s Arizona spokesman, Tim Hogan, pointed us to a July 2014 study on the topic from Princeton University economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson.

The study concludes that Democratic presidents do have more Gross Domestic Product growth than Republicans, according to quarterly GDP data dating back to 1947, when the data was first tracked.

However, the economists point out that there are other factors, such as better oil prices and international conditions, that could be driving these better numbers for Democratic presidents. In short, Democrats occupying the Oval Office tend to have a little better luck.

Experts we spoke with largely held the same views.

Harvard University government professor Jeffrey Frankel said the statistics, from GDP to the unemployment rate, are striking, but noted that the president does not have “all that control.”

“That doesn’t prove what the cause is,” Frankel said. (Update: After this item published, we heard from Frankel who said he believed Clinton’s statement was accurate because Clinton did not say that Democrats caused the gap in performance. You can read more on his views here.)

Robert Shapiro, chairman of Washington D.C. economic advisory firm Sonecon, said Clinton is right, but with the same caveat.

“The details, of course, depend on how and what you compare, since the economy performs better in certain periods than others,” Shapiro said.

Christian Weller, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, did his own math on the GDP data since 1947.

He found that the economy, through the last quarter of 2015 and after inflation, grew 3.8 percent under Democrats and 2.4 percent under Republicans.

For President Barack Obama, the growth rate in his first term was 1.8 percent. His current growth rate is 2 percent, but that’s still higher than his predecessor, George W. Bush. And his second term hasn’t ended yet.

Based on estimates, Weller said Obama should hit the 2.4 percent Republican average. Still, Ronald Reagan’s 3.4 percent growth rate is well ahead of the economy right now under Obama.

“Other than Obama, every Democrat had a faster growth rate, even (Jimmy) Carter had a slightly higher growth rate than Reagan,” Weller said. “This is one of the safest talking points for a Democratic contender.”

However, the asterisks bother Arizona State University presidential historian Brooks Simpson.

“Secretary Clinton is not exactly telling the whole truth,’” Simpson said.

Simpson referenced Bill Clinton’s administration, noting that he benefited from some of the economic policies of his predecessor, Republican George H.W. Bush. A 2011 report from the right-leaning Heritage Foundation notes that the economy was already in its “22nd month of expansion” when Bill Clinton took office in January 1993.

Our ruling

Hillary Clinton said, “the economy always does better when there’s a Democrat in the White House.”

Yes, Democratic presidents do have more Gross Domestic Product growth than Republicans, according to quarterly GDP data dating back to 1947.

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