Since the economy and political system go hand and hand, it seems as if presidents who foster and maintain a strong economy have strong approval ratings. However, approval ratings consist of many more factors than just the condition of the economy, so is there a correlation between GDP growth and the approval ratings for our government?
Unfortunately, there is no economy without a political system. This is because politics is a constant contest of ideas, and whoever rides into office each election cycle is able to project their ideas onto the economy. Hence, politics shapes the economic conditions of the country. Ideally, the goal of the government is to make policy changes in response the economic conditions to create growth or prevent adverse consequences.
We measure the strength of the economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Experts calculate GDP by aggregating the value of all goods and services produced in a year; a healthy rate of growth is between two and three percent. Larger countries, including the United States, have larger GDPs because these countries have more economic activity. To factor in population, economists will use a per capita GDP, which just divides the GDP by population size to measure average economic output per citizen. This allows economists to compare the economic output of different countries according to the same scale.
Although the President is not the only influence on economic policy, he will gain or lose public favor depending on the state of the economy. Economic success or failure during a president’s tenure will affect political attitudes: While a healthy economy will not suddenly make all citizens support the commander-in-chief, a strong economy and approval rates seem to be related.
According to various studies, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was amongst the most liked modern-day presidents. Over the course of eight years in office, Eisenhower’s approval was consistently high. Additionally, Eisenhower enjoyed three percent average annual GDP growth; this can be compared to former President Harry Truman, who served for over seven years and had a much lower approval rating. Truman also did not have nearly as high of a GDP growth rate, averaging 1.7 percent. Of course, there are other factors to consider, such as the length of terms and current laws.
While there may not be a direct correlation between GDP growth and approval rate, there is consistency between the two factors. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson had the highest GDP growth rate in modern history—5.3 percent—but only an average approval rating by comparison. However, more recent presidents, such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both had relatively low approval ratings and lower GDP growth rates.
There are many factors, including unemployment rates, budget, debt, that will affect a President’s approval. Nevertheless, we can still conclude that a stronger economy goes hand and hand with the approval of the political system.