Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

About the economy and Democrats, Part II


The initial estimate for first-quarter GDP is out, and -- surprise! -- it's lousy. From the federal government's own report on its data:

"Real gross domestic product -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation's economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production, adjusted for price changes -- increased at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016, according to the 'advance' estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 1.4 percent."

This is the third straight 1Q in which real, annualized GDP growth was less than 1 percent. Oh well, winter's always a tough time, right?

Actually, it wasn't always thus. Below are the average 1Q growth rates dating back to the beginning of the federal data set in 1947. I've even taken the initial 1Q of a presidency off its books and added it to that of its predecessor, since it's hardly fair to pin economic performance on a guy who's still figuring out where all the bathrooms are in the White House, right? Particularly so in the case of Barack Obama, who inherited a terrible recession. So, fear not, that awful January-March stretch of 2009 is on George W. Bush's ledger, not Obama's, in this analysis. And yet:

  • Obama: 0.7 percent
  • Bush-43: 1.2 percent
  • Clinton: 2.3 percent
  • Bush-41: 2.1 percent
  • Reagan: 3.0 percent
  • Carter: 3.0 percent
  • Nixon/Ford: 4.3 percent
  • JFK/LBJ: 7.5 percent
  • Eisenhower: 2.6 percent
  • Truman: 5.0 percent

I'm not aware of any structural economic reasons 1Q would have become markedly worse over the past few years. This is, however, in keeping with recent history. In no single quarter during Obama's presidency has the one-year trailing average of GDP growth matched the long-term average of 3.3 percent. His best mark was the 3.1 percent from 4Q of 2009 through 3Q of 2010. It's been all downhill since then; only one other time has the one-year average hit even 3.0 percent. He's averaged 2.1 percent on that score, even if we don't start counting until after the numbers turned positive.

He fares no better on two-year trailing averages, never once hitting 3.0 percent, much less the long-term average of 3.3 percent. Nor on four-year trailing averages, nor six-year trailing averages. I suppose I could try three- and five- and seven-year averages, but I have a feeling the story would be the same. At this rate, the eight-year average will, too.

Note: There is not a single other president since 1947 about whom I could have written the above. Everyone else, from Truman to Dubya, hit these long-term averages in at least one quarter during his presidency.

Now, as I wrote the other day , presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy's performance. I'm not changing my tune here -- just pointing out that even on their own premises, the left is wrong about how the economy has fared on this Democratic president's watch. Maybe the facts will at least persuade them that such simplistic slogans and pseudo-analyses about the economy and partisanship really aren't worth much.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.