A commenter, after gazing at these figures, asks: how much influence do presidents really have over the economy anyway?
I dove deeply into this here, riffing off of an academic paper comparing economic outcomes between terms when D’s or R’s controlled the White House. The economy grows faster under Democrats, which is good to know, but it’s virtually impossible to untangle any sort of causality. So, in general, I wouldn’t give presidents as much credit as they will always take for good economies or blame for bad ones.
There are, however, important exceptions. The Obama team came on the scene in the depths of the downturn and punched back hard. Mistakes were made (I made some of them), some measures didn’t go far enough, and the Fed helped too, of course. But the results were positive and while it’s unknowable how a President McCain would have responded had he won–one definition of a Keynesian is a Republican in a recession–I think it’s entirely fair to credit Obama with influencing the economy in a big way in those respects.
Second, while you can’t typically link presidential actions to the variables in the academic study cited above–growth, jobs, productivity, price of oil, etc.–regulatory actions and big policy accomplishments can make a big difference in the future. Here, I’m thinking about Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. If the former can dampen the economic shampoo cycle (bubble-bust-repeat) and the latter can continue to hold down the growth of health care costs, they will very much deserve to be called economically transformative policies for which I’ll give Obama and his team boatloads of credit.