Democratic, republican presidents have had similar economic records, says political scientist

Feb 04, 2010

In his recent book "Unequal Democracy," noted Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels reaches the controversial conclusion that Democratic presidents have generally done a better job in handling the economy.

According to Bartels, economic growth has been greater, unemployment has been lower and income-inequality has been slightly reduced under Democratic presidents. As he sees it, Democrats have had a better record across the board.

But James Campbell, a University at Buffalo professor of political science and widely published author on American politics, says Bartels is incorrect.

In "A Refutation of 'Unequal Democracy,'" a paper he recently presented at the Northeastern Political Science Meeting, Campbell concludes, after reexamining the economic data, that there have been no significant differences in the economic records of the two presidential parties over the past 60 years.

Both Campbell and Bartels obtained the data for their studies from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The problem with Bartels' analysis of the economic records of the two parties," says Campbell, "is that it does not take into account the state of the inherited by the new president. Bartels' finding of a partisan difference depends entirely on the way in which he treats transition periods from one party to the other.

"In reviewing the economic history of the past six decades," Campbell says, "I found that whenever the country was moving from a Democratic to a Republican presidency, the economy was weak and often slipping into recession."

"Truman left Eisenhower, Johnson left Nixon and Carter left Reagan with economies that were going into recession as they left office and, while the economy was not technically in recession when Bill Clinton turned the keys to the White House over to George W. Bush," Campbell says, "the dot-com bubble was bursting and the economy was on the brink of a recession.

"In blaming Republican presidents for the economic problems inherited from the previous Democratic presidents, Bartels has unfortunately added insult to injury."

Based on his reading of the historical economic data, Campbell finds that, "From 1948 to 2005, Republican presidents were quite consistently left with an economic mess by their Democratic predecessor. This had not been the case for incoming Democratic presidents -- until now.

"While there can and should be much debate over what caused the current recession, it obviously started 'on the watch' of Republican President Bush," Campbell says.

"However, unlike the earlier transition recessions, the current recession began early enough that it should not consume President Obama's term, unless his policies end up stalling the economic recovery.

"The key difference between Bartels' analysis and mine," he says, "is that I examined the effects of the lagged quarterly change in the economy on the following year's economy. Once you take into account the impact of the two quarters leading into a year, the party differences that Bartels found in economic growth, unemployment and income-inequality wash out."

Campbell notes that the two political parties are different in many significant ways, "and may even have important long-term economic differences between them, but they do not differ with respect to the performances of the economy during their administrations.

"Republican presidents were no more responsible for the economic downturns early in their terms," he says, "than Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the Depression in the early '30s or than Barack Obama was responsible for the recession in the early quarters of his administration."

Explore further: 3 Qs: Economist makes the case for new quasi-experiments as a way of studying environmental issues

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Election forecasters preparing for historic election

Jun 23, 2008

Anticipating what is likely to be one of the most interesting elections in modern history, University at Buffalo professor of political science James E. Campbell and Michael S. Lewis-Beck, professor of political ...

Does religion make a difference in politics?

Oct 27, 2008

From Barack Obama's controversial pastor to Sarah Palin's "secret religion", religious values have continued to play a dominant role in the presidential election since John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic elected to ...

Recommended for you

Which foods may cost you more due to Calif. drought

Apr 17, 2014

With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices ...

Performance measures for CEOs vary greatly, study finds

Apr 16, 2014

As companies file their annual proxy statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this spring, a new study by Rice University and Cornell University shows just how S&P 500 companies have ...

Investment helps keep transport up to speed

Apr 16, 2014

Greater investment in education and training for employees will be required to meet the future needs of the transport and logistics industry, according to recent reports by Monash University researchers.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.