President Obama presided over the highest unemployment rates seen in decades, as well as a long, slow recovery. Though his presidency has been marked by a rough economy, a new poll shows that Americans are far more likely to blame his predecessor for the nation's economic woes.
According to a new poll from Gallup, Americans are far less likely to blame Obama for the nation's current economic problems than they are to blame former president George W. Bush, who left office over fouryears ago. More than two-thirds of Americans, 69 percent, said they blame Bush "a great deal" or "a moderate amount" for the nation's current economic problems. In contrast, just over half of Americans, 53 percent, say the same of Obama.
That a majority of Americans blamed either president means that there is some overlap: more than one-third of respondents, 34 percent, said they blame both. Still, Bush gets more blame among respondents who place the fault on only one president: 35 percent point to Bush alone as being responsible for the poor economy, while only 19 percent blame Obama alone. Only 11 percent say neither is to blame.
Whether or not either president is truly to blame, Americans could rightly associate memories of a poor economy with Bush and Obama alike. Bush presided over the initial throes of the economic crisis – the bursting of the housing bubble, the start of the subsequent financial meltdown and a rapid spike in unemployment – and the majority of the "Great Recession," which lasted from December 2007 through June 2009, also took place on his watch. However, unemployment hit its post-recession peak of 10 percent in 2009, early in Obama's first term, and improvement has been disappointingly slow.
Still, none of that is to say that the poll respondents are right to blame either president for elevated unemployment and sluggish growth. Though candidates promise to create jobs and boost growth, there is much dispute over exactly how much a president can do that. Some economists, in fact, believe the presidency has little impact on the nation's overall economic performance.
Former president Bill Clinton, for example, famously campaigned with the slogan "It's the economy, stupid," and then presided over an economy marked by strong job growth. While Clinton's policies may have played some part, FactCheck.com has pointed out that he by no means deserves all of the credit – a roaring tech sector and favorable oil prices helped. Likewise, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, first appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan but eventually reappointed by Clinton, was credited at the time with fueling growth (though some have since then blamed Greenspan in part for the financial crisis).
Though it seems impossible to untangle the infinite factors that play into economic performance, many have tried to determine the president's degree of influence. In one paper, economists measured financial data from the few hours in November 2004 when Americans thought Democrat John Kerry was the winner of the presidential election, before Bush was eventually declared the winner. The paper, released in 2006, showed that "markets anticipated higher equity prices, interest rates, and oil prices and a stronger dollar under a Bush presidency than under Kerry."
That would suggest a Republican economic advantage, but some data show that Democrats have also fended well for themselves. As a U.S. News analysis showed in 2012, Democrats have presided over more job creation and more equity growth than Republicans over the last 50 years.