Years ago, we emailed a good friend a set of data comparing Republican and Democratic economic performance since the Carter years. Our friend was a Republican. As far as we know he still is, but he wasn’t fond of the results. He sent a reply that read, “I think I can tell when someone’s cherry-picked the data.”
For the record, we on The Other Side let the numbers speak for themselves, but we’ve been on the lookout ever since for straightforward, easy-to-understand metrics that shed a brighter light on the GOP’s economy-management expertise. As luck would have it, we stumbled across a Wikipedia piece titled, “Jobs Created during US Presidential Terms.” The article covers a lot of ground, but one part in particular caught our eye: a matrix showing average annual nonfarm job growth per presidential term.
We couldn’t resist the temptation. We had to know whether the results would correlate with the conclusions we published in “Republicans v. Democrats, Part III: Jobs.” In our mind of minds, we thought there was a chance that the Republicans would prevail, even though they were drubbed when the yardstick was unemployment.
According to Wikipedia, the average annual rate of nonfarm job growth per presidential term since 1977 was as follows:
President Party Term Annual Growth Rate
JE Carter Dem. 1977-1981 3.21%
RW Reagan Rep. 1981-1985 1.47%
RW Reagan 2 Rep. 1985-1989 2.80%
GHW Bush Rep. 1989-1993 0.45%
WJ Clinton 1 Dem. 1993-1997 2.85%
WJ Clinton 2 Dem. 1997-2001 2.33%
GW Bush 1 Rep. 2001-2005 0.02%
GW Bush 2 Rep. 2005-2009 0.24%
BH Obama 1 Dem. 2009-2013 0.23%
BH Obama 2 Dem. 2013-2017 1.85%
On average, the annual rate of nonfarm job growth during the last five Republican terms was a tad less than 1%. Over the same period, the average annual rate of nonfarm job growth was a tad more than 2% during Democratic administrations.
To summarize: Republicans 1% per year, Democrats 2% per year.
The usual quibbles apply. Our favorite: The newly elected president’s policies take a year or so to have an impact on the market. Our opinion: That’s true to an extent, but the latency varies and is largely subjective, which makes it impossible to measure. Our second favorite: The president is a tool of Congress. They make the rules; he breaks them. Our opinion: The policies that affect job growth are generally determined by the president and then watered down by a detached, misinformed Congress.
The (empirical) bottom line: For the last four decades, the annual jobs growth rate when Democrats occupied the White House was more than twice the growth rate when Republicans occupied the White House. If you’re interested in the correlation, check out our first blog on the topic. You’ll be disappointed, or you won’t.
We’re not giving up. Sooner or later, we’re bound to come across a simple, fair barometer of economic performance that favors GOP presidents and doesn’t antedate the invention of the pocket calculator. In the meantime, we’ll look forward to another nasty-gram from the American Association for the Advancement of Innumeracy. You can support their cause by sending donations to the cable-news network of your choice.
Full disclosure: According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.19 million jobs were created in 2017, Trump’s first year in office and a splendid result from an economic point of view. From The Other Side: 2.34 million jobs were created during President Obama’s last year in office, or about 7% more than Trump’s first year, but a year is a fourth of a full term. Maybe things will change.