AS the presidential election campaign heats up, two measures of the economic success of President Obama’s administration provide drastically different views of how he has done.
His stock market record is among the best of all the administrations that have held office over the last century. But in terms of economic growth, the record is among the poorest.
The accompanying chart measures the performance of the stock market and the economy under each administration since Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912, adjusted for inflation. The measures cover the time from when a president took office until the following campaign got under way.
From the fourth quarter of 2008 through the final quarter of 2011, the American economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.4 percent. Of course, the economy declined during the first two quarters of 2009, reflecting the financial crisis and recession that began before Mr. Obama was elected, and has since recovered all of the decline and more. Nonetheless, over comparable periods, the economy performed better in 21 of the previous 24 administrations.
But since the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, the stock market has risen at an annual rate of 16.4 percent, even after adjusting for inflation. That is better than all but four previous administrations.
It is highly unusual for the two measurements to differ so greatly, but there is one similar case. Nearly a century ago, President Wilson took office just as a recession was beginning. The stock market had plunged before he was inaugurated, and the eventual recovery in prices came on his watch. But the decline in the economy during 1914 was not fully overcome until 1916, when spending on World War I brought rapid growth.
World War II caused even greater dislocations in economic output, and means that there probably should be footnotes next to the fastest growth in the chart — during Franklin Roosevelt’s third term — and the largest decline — during the following administration as war spending ended.
In general, share prices seem to have had a better record as election forecasters. Nine previous administrations have produced double-digit percentage gains over the comparable period, and the incumbent party won in seven of the subsequent elections, the exceptions being Democratic defeats in 1952 and 2000. At the other end of the scale, only one incumbent, President Roosevelt running in 1940, was able to win despite substantial stock market losses.
President Obama may be able to take heart from the somewhat similar experience of President Wilson, who was able to claim credit for the recovery and pass off the blame for the recession as he won re-election in 1916. But the other two presidents with similar records of slow economic growth — Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush — each lost their re-election bids.
Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at nytimes.com/economix.