Democrats, Republicans, and the Economy

A certain batch of charts have been all over the blogosphere, basically showing that Democrats have been, in a pretty remarkable fashion, much better with the economy than Republican administrations. Here are some of them:

GDP Growth

That’s pretty striking, and pretty obvious what it entails. With only Nixon’s first term and Carter juxtaposed, the two tiers of GDP growth would be totally partisan, with Democrats on top. Now I think some of these you could probably throw out. FDR’s 3rd term encompassed most of our tenure in World War II, and a rapid military build up certainly took up a good chunk of that GDP growth. Likewise, Roosevelt-Truman was mostly the immediate aftermath of the war, and so we could expect GDP to contract as such a massive effort came to a close and the economy readjusted. But even if we account for those 2 outliers of circumstance, you still have the rest of them, and you still have Democrats doing markedly better than Republicans in terms of annual GDP growth.


Again, obviously striking. The only Democratic administration not at the top of the list are the Roosevelt-Truman years, but again, that’s the immediate aftermath of World War II and a massive economic transition. Although, to be fair, you have to take into account the starting points of some of these administrations. That leaves terms like Carter and Nixon-Ford higher than they should be, and Bush 43 is, believe it or not, probably lower than he should be.

Unemployment Rate Change

This is probably my favorite of all the graphs, just because it shows that the actual average of Republican administration since the end of World War II is an increase in unemployment. Again though, it’s important to keep starting points in mind, as well as events. The highest unemployment rates recorded were during the Nixon-Ford years, but Roosevelt-Truman and Eisenhower come in behind them. That’s mostly because those were periods of deescalation from a war footing into a peace time economy, and to be fair to Truman and Eisenhower I think reasonable people can stipulate that, for the most part, those economic factors were mostly driven by events (read, wars) outside of their control, and that would have existed more or less regardless of who was President over those tenures. And, data wise, it really doesn’t make much of a difference for our comparison, since most of the effect comes in during the Roosevelt-Truman term, but the Democratic average is still consistently better than the Republican average.

Now, more diplomatic people have played a bit more coy with this, chalking it up as interesting or as good fodder for more empirical study. But let me posit an alternative theory; this is pretty good empirical evidence that Democrats are better at handling the economy than Republicans. It would be one thing if you had a few hap-dash instances of being better, but you don’t have that, you have near unanimous results here, with Democratic administrations besting Republican administrations across a broad spectrum of economic measurements.