I've noticed that Donald Trump will often cite the current value of stock market indices, the current unemployment rate, the current number of people working in the US, and even the current GDP value, as indications of his performance.

I assumed that the current values of these economic metrics aren't relevant when judging a president; rather the amount that a president grows these values should be what is used. However, even news outlets that are normally critical of Trump seem to praise him for being president when these metrics have record high values. For example, he seems to draw praise when the Dow Jones index hits a record high, even though he hasn't grown the Dow by anywhere close to what many of his predecessors (including his immediate predecessor) have.

Can anyone shed light on what I'm missing here?

  • This seems more like an economics question than a politics one. You might be interested: economics.stackexchange.com/questions/29149/…
    – Allure
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 22:35
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    I have removed those attempts of answering your own question. One of those paragraphs was the cause of question closure and they do not belong there anyway (answers are used for that). The question might need some citations, but one more knowledgeable in US politics might decide if this is required (maybe most of what is there is almost common knowledge).
    – Alexei
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 5:53
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    Could you cite the statement that Obama grew the Stock Market better than Trump? As a rule, the Stock Market indexes are one small part in the overall assessment of the Presedent's financial policies and in a broader scope, Trump does have better numbers than Obama (the unemployment and jobs created numbers are far and away better for Trump than Obama's).
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 15:27
  • @hszmv When do you start attributing numbers to the sitting president? Sure they will have some impact once they are sworn in but there will still be a larger impact from the polices of the previous president until the newly elected president and congress can start implementing their plan. The state of the economy was in when the president took control should also be considered as it is easier to show better gains from an improving one rather than one that started off really bad as was the case when Obama took office. Trump getting handed an good one really helped him.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:28
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    @hszmv - of course a president who inherits a record-setting job creating economy is going to have better starting numbers than the person who built it to that point, starting in a deep, deep economic crater. If you look at Trump's first two and a half years vs. the two and a half years before he took over, his numbers are worse. FYI - Dow Jones when Obama took office = 7550. When Trump took office, 19,827. December 2, 2011 for Obama, Dow Jones was at 159% of what it was when he took over. Trump, 140%. But those numbers can be sliced many different ways (raw number of points instead of %) Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:55

5 Answers 5


It's easy points. The dark secret every president will agree upon but never say is that the President of the United States actually has very little in the way of policy tools at his disposal to really affect the outcome of the Economy one way or another during his time in office. To be sure some policies do lead to all the bad words associated with economic downturns, but if you look at charts of the stock market over the entire history of the United States, the downward trends tend to be very small compared to the upward trends and every period of a drop has ended with markets in a higher place post recovery.

The reason it is important is because historically, Americans will not vote the President out of office when the economy is doing well (Of all the Presidents elected since the end of WWII, only two were voted out of office during poor economic times in the nations history (Carter and Bush). I'm not including Johnson and Ford because both assumed office as another President's VP... Johnson was re-elected though his 63-65 is considered too short to really judge... and Ford was never elected and his greatest Presidential achievements were "being the first President to be mocked by SNL" to put it mildly). This isn't necessarily apathy as the American Government was designed be a second hand thought to most Americans. Most Americans have an annual reminder that the Government exists once a year on April 15 and then do not need to pay attention to it. There are places in this country right now where they may have heard of the impeachment... but good luck finding them able to name a witness from memory... and you can Youtube all sorts of people in major Urban centers who's grasp of current events or core historical events is fleeting at best.

With this mind set, Americans don't tend to pay close attention to politics unless something bad is happening, and often and the most common problem is that the economy slumps from time to time... It's only then that they start to listen to the politicians blaming political opponents, and the President, as head of Government, tends to catch flack because the President is a singular person compared to Congress... even if it's a policy brought on by law, it's hard to oust a congress person if you aren't from his/her constituency (And no matter how unpopular the President is, Congress is more unpopular. There was a recent poll that found cockroaches and Ebola have higher approval ratings than Congress).

And while it's rather difficult for Presidents to affect the economy one way or the other, it's certainly easier for a policy to negatively affect the economy than it is for a policy to improve the economy.


I'll try and find more studies as references to back this up but.....

The American electorate is generally known to be a bit lazy, uninformed and disengaged. Looking at longer-term economic factors takes more effort than "Do I have a job, now? Does my checking account seem to be doing okay, right now?"

We're a wealthy nation that has been the main international superpower for over half a century. Complacency is something that can easily set in under comfortable circumstances.

  • Yep. You can argue about when each President's policies went into effect and realized the changes, whether it's the President or Congress making the difference, foreign economic trends, or long-term impacts versus short, but in the end, most people are lazy and tend to blame/credit the guy who looks like he's in charge.
    – Geobits
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:37
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    @Geobits - When people would talk about the debt added when Obama was President, and I tried to have discussions about starting vs ending points and the fact that there was no reset button for the beginning of each term it was like beating my head against the wall. The guy who sinks the Titanic and the guy who raises it from the ocean floor will both have a same average ship-depth, overall. Tough to claim what they are doing is equivalent, though. Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:41
  • "The American electorate is generally known to be a bit lazy, uninformed and disengaged." A characterization that would be both more accurate and less pejorative would be to say that the electorate is rationally ignorant when it comes to economics. There's no reason for most people to be informed and engaged about how the economy works, usually because they are busy doing their own jobs instead of those of economists.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:36
  • @Joe - that would be true if uninformed were restricted to economics, but feel free to name the topic, many of which have profound and direct impacts on American lives, and many where people have passionate opinions on the subject, and you'll find that we're pretty ignorant across the board. Also, economics impacts our lives, and we have jobs as citizens in a democratic society to understand it well enough to make an informed decision in the voting booth. How many of the voters understand what the debt ceiling is, or the difference between federal deficit and debt? Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:54

Why is the current state of the economy used to judge a president over their impact on growth?


information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people's opinions. - Cambridge dictionary

I make these pledges as candidate for President:

I will blame the incumbent for metrics that are not favourable and I will not mention or I will assign credit to my party for metrics that are favourable.

When President, I will take credit for metrics that are favourable and I will take every opportunity to talk about them. I will not mention metrics that are not favourable - if I am asked about them I will assign blame to my predecessor and/or the opposing party and try to change the topic.

If the per cent increase suits my purpose I'll use that and if the absolute number suits my purpose I'll use that, particularly if there was a per cent decrease.

I may make a promise about a target - it will not be a stretch target. If it is achieved, I am the best President you've ever had. If it is not achieved, my opponents are to blame and let's talk about how they are holding up legislation important for our economy.

I will make claims with a kernel of truth but misleading as a whole, e.g. by looking at individual quarters or metrics without context, if it makes me look good.

If I am not a President or candidate but merely a biased commentator I will do likewise.

I promise to do the above regardless of the actual degree of control or extent of effect that Presidents and parties have over these metrics.

  • This is entertaining but it is not an answer to the question asked.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:30
  • @Joe I have now made my answer explicit.
    – Lag
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:42

It's not just Trump or the US. Looking at the state of the economy is a standard metric across democracies. After all, people's perceptions of their wealth and job prospects rank pretty high in their government-related concerns, along with a country not being at war and the like. That's been a staple of judging governments for a long time.

The second bit is that you can only expect so much in terms of both people's understanding of statistics and economic indicators, as well as the desire/motivation for news media to go off into detailed explanations that would "muddy the waters".

Why do you, for example, care about growth metrics now, vs previous presidents? It's certainly a valid criteria, don't get me wrong, but another might to assess how much of the current expansion is down to financial and tax stimulus and what its impact is likely to be on long term deficits. Point is, these numbers can be sliced and diced dozens of different ways.

By at least some metrics, the current US economic cycle seems positive. Maybe the news outlets could look at the deeper picture, but they might quickly lose their readers and could then be accused of denying that Trump ever does anything well. Outside of specialized press, like for example The Economist, that doesn't seem like a winning strategy.


Obama didn't grow the stock market. Stocks were grossly undervalued when he took office and the rise of the stock market was investors jumping back in with money that was lying around and earning little in bank interest. Obama borrowed and spent money to grow the economy, which is largely artificial, just as the current borrowings are also artificial growth. Where things differ with Trump is he has enacted businesses friendly legislation. And he has achieved economic numbers which are very difficult to achieve at any time in history. For example unemployment dropping from 4% range to the 3% ranges is infintly more difficult than unemployment dropping from 8% to 5% which can happen without doing anything except just waiting for it to happen

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    This ignores the fact that Obama was handed a record-setting budget deficit, and cut it so fast that there were articles about whether he was slashing the annual deficits too much. The economy was also bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs per month, people's retirement savings were wiped out, foreclosures were rampant. To pretend that the market turnaround was just people who realized they had piles of cash sitting on the floor is fundamentally dishonest, or being misinformed. To blame Obama for the deficits he cut is also misinformed. Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 14:45
  • You really have no idea how markets work. The reason the market falls is funds are withdrawn from the market. Of course money taken out of the market finds its way back in when the selling stops and people think stocks are undervalued, people who cash out at the top of a market don't normally go off and find alternative investments, they usually wait to jump back in. That money is joined by new money earned by people who still have a job.
    – user29223
    Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 22:39
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    "you really have no idea how markets work" - kind of ironic you should make that statement. Markets fail when funds are withdrawn at a substantial loss in value. That money isn't magically recouped. It's not a zero sum equation. Wealth is created, indirectly, through productivity adding value to products and services, wealth is lost. If I buy stock in Company "A", along with thousands of other investors, that company doesn't do well and evenutally fails, and I sell it when no one wants to buy, I'm either stuck with worthless stock, or I take a huge financial hit. There is no money to go back. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 16:29
  • What? Markets fail due to individual losses? What are you talking about? During the GFC how many people lost their jobs? Unemployment was only as high as around 10%. That is all you need to know. It means probably 90% of companies just kept on going as before, 90% of the economy was intact, doesn't sound like a marketbfailure, especially if it grew by 10% in the previous 3 years and 3% unemployment is considered full employment
    – user29223
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 20:05

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