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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

U.S. Debt-to-GDP ratio and President Track Records

At the end of Q2 2012 the U.S. Total Public Debt as Percent of GDP (Debt/GDP ratio) stood at 101.7%. This was the highest ever reported for the period analysed here (from 1969). At the beginning of 1969 the ratio was 38.2% so since then the ratio has increased (i.e. worsened) by 166% (or 63.5% points). So which Presidents and political party were responsible for this dramatic increase? The table below shows the percentage change in the Debt/GDP ratio under each President starting with Nixon in 1969. The percentage change in the ratio is then divided into the number of quarters each president sat in office to get an average percentage change in the ratio per quarter. Finally, the total percentage change in the ratio for each party is added up and divided by the total number of quarters each party sat in office to indicate an average percentage change in the ratio per quarter per party. The numbers are as follows:

The numbers show, based on an average percentage change in the Debt/GDP ratio per quarter, that Obama by far has the worst record. Since he commenced office in 2009, the ratio has on average increased (i.e. worsened) by 2.420% every quarter. Reagan is in 2nd place with 1.8825% per quarter followed by Bush Sr (1.614%), Bush Jr (1.123%) and Ford (0.858%). Nixon has the best record, having decreased the Debt/GDP ratio by an average of 0.749% per quarter followed by Carter (-0.5000%) and Clinton (-0.409%).



During the period analysed, Republicans were in office for 112 quarters while Democrats held office in 62 quarters. On average, per quarter in office the Debt/GDP ratio increased by 1.019% with Republicans in office while under Democrats it increased an average of 0.206% per quarter.

This demonstrates of course that both parties are big spenders and that, on average, both parties have been responsible for increasing debt as a proportion of GDP. Based purely on these track records, an improvement in the Debt/GDP ratio would certainly not have been guaranteed had Obama not won the election. Even though he is by far the biggest spending President for this period analysed.