The Economies Of Past Presidents

Sabato compares Obama to former incumbents:

Since 1948, only Carter’s glaring -7.9% slump was worse than Obama’s 1.7% GDP growth rate in the second quarter. What should be even more disconcerting for Obama is the fact that two incumbent presidents with higher second quarter GDP growth figures have failed to win reelection.

Both Gerald Ford in 1976 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 had to run with tepid economies, but in many ways their situations were better than the one Obama has now: both had lower unemployment rates and higher rates of second quarter GDP growth. So why did they lose? Other factors came into play. Ford had the burden of Watergate, and his pardon of Richard Nixon hurt him badly; a debate gaffe about Poland being free of Soviet domination also slowed his forward momentum for 10 critical days. The elder Bush had to cope with Ross Perot. While in the end Perot’s 19% was fairly split between potential Bush backers and Clinton supporters, Perot had gone after Bush tooth and nail for most of the election year — and it showed in Bush’s favorability ratings. The end of the Cold War, lessening the importance of foreign policy experience, probably played a role in Clinton’s success, too.