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Expand chart
Source: "Presidents and US Economy", Trump figures through 2019 courtesy of Alan Blinder; Note: Data shows real GDP and Q1 growth in each term is attributed to the previous president; Chart: Axios Visuals

Average economic growth under President Trump has outpaced the growth under Barack Obama, but not all of his recent predecessors.

Why it matters: GDP is the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success. And it's especially relevant since Trump is running for re-election on his economic record.

Between the lines: Economists dispute how much credit presidents can take for a booming or sagging economy under their watch. There are factors that can boost or reduce growth outside of their policies.

  • Where it stands: Unlike other presidents, Trump inherited a steady economy that’s since entered the longest stretch of growth in history. Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated.

What he’s saying: “Our economy is the best it has ever been,” Trump said earlier this month in his State of the Union speech.

  • But some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods.
  • While solid, “this is not a gangbusters economy,” Nathan Sheets, who’s held roles at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, tells Axios.
  • There have been periods with “high growth, low inflation, rapid productivity, and the gains from growth were being broadly shared across society. That was gangbusters,” says Sheets.

By the numbers: Last year the economy grew at 2.3%, after year-over-year accelerations in 2017 and 2018 — marking the slowest annual growth rate since Trump took office. Growth under Trump has yet to hit his oft-promised 3% mark annually.

  • Economists say the effects of the tax are wearing off. Businesses were too unnerved by the trade war to spend money on new factories or equipment — a key driver of growth.

Yes, but: If history is any guide, an incumbent president isn't going to have a great shot at re-election if the economy tips into a recession under their watch.

  • Under George H.W. Bush, the economy grew around 2% throughout his presidency, reflecting a return to growth after a recession and spiking unemployment that contributed to his election loss.

What to watch: Wall Street downgraded growth expectations in the first half of 2020, even as tensions over the trade war ebbed.

  • There are big unknowns, like how hard the coronavirus and the Boeing 737 MAX production halt will hit the economy, if at all.
  • Meanwhile, the resilient consumer may be losing momentum, government data showed Friday — a troubling sign, considering that spending accounts for two-thirds of economic activity.
  • But economic growth could bounce back right as voters head to the polls — and that could help Trump right when he needs it.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.