Which Presidents Were Good For The Economy?

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Tomorrow’s election is an election about the economy, and it isn’t the first Presidential election in which economics have played a key role.

With all of the rhetoric and promises spouted about the economy during Presidential campaigns of the past, it is hard to say definitively which Presidents did the best job of delivering a good economy during their tenure in the White House. But a new study from researchers at Georgia Tech seeks to grade past Presidents on an economic performance report card.

The study by the Georgia Institute of Technology analyzed 220 years of data to estimate an economic “grade point average” for Presidents who served from 1789 to 2009. The research appears in the October edition of PS Political Science & Politics.

According to the researchers, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding and Rutherford B. Hayes preformed the best in an economic sense, all receiving an A+. Chester Arthur, Herbert Hoover and Martin Van Buren receive failing grades for their economic undertakings.

Rounding out the study’s top five high economic achievers were William McKinley and Millard Filmore with grades of A-. Founding father George Washington trailed behind the top five in the study, but still achieved a grad of A- economically speaking. John Adams, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy rank slightly lower in the A-/B+ range. And the most recent Presidents to receive high marks were Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan with a satisfactory B.

Presidential ranking systems tend to be clouded by partisan bias, subjective judgments and other aspects of Presidential performance, but the Georgia Tech researchers claim to have modeled their economic ranking system on objective, statistical data to gauge Presidential economic performance without partisan bias.

The methodology also produced some — and some that free market advocates would say not so –surprising results, such as:

  • Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson — often considered hero Presidents — each receive a D for poor economic performance.
  • Presidents with below average economic performance often belong to parties that are relatively pro-farmer, pro-laborer or pro-consumer.
  • Presidential economic performance did not correlate with the pre-political career, birth order, historical “greatness” or whether the President was a “dark horse” versus a well-vetted President.
  • Presidents who performed well tend to belong to pro-business political parties, have a Congress in which only one house is dominated by their party, serve during wartime and were raised in middle-class environments.

Citation: Mark Zachary Taylor, An Economic Ranking of the US Presidents, 1789-2009: A Data-Based Approach, PS: Political Science & Politics (October 2012)

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.