Rising financial markets – which mirror the improving economy – have long symbolized prosperity even for Americans who own no shares. Bumping up against 13,000 this past week, the Dow average was seen as still another portent of recovery, for President Obama’s electoral prospects as well as for the nation.
What the president might consider explaining is that the latest market surge (and its rise over recent months) are unsurprising to anyone familiar with America’s financial history. The rule that stretches back over the past century is clear: Stocks rise under Democrats and decline under Republicans. And that simple statistic is matched by a broad set of economic data that follow the same partisan vector. Republicans have often succeeded in persuading voters that their party is “good for the economy” – a persistent myth that the president ought to debunk.
That bastion of socialism, the Bloomberg News organization, made the basic point with a convenient chart and accompanying article on February 22, showing that the pattern holds all the way back to the Kennedy administration. Examining S&P 500 data over the past 50 years, reporter Bob Drummond found that an investor who put $1,000 in a market-tracking fund would have earned $10,920 by late February 2012 under the Democratic presidencies, but only $2,087 under the Republican presidencies. The contrast in the red-and-blue, seen here, is equally stark.
While Drummond’s article might have startled anyone persuaded by the GOP’s traditional economic myth-making, it is not a new story. While writing Big Lies, a book published several years ago, I found plenty of credible research on this topic, all of it pointing in the same direction. A study by Northwestern Mutual, the insurance and financial services giant –which looked at the performance of the S&P 500 from 1929 to 1979 — demonstrated that even after removing two of the worst Republican periods under Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, the outcome still favored Democrats by 16/9 to 14.2 percent. The largest gains occurred under Franklin Delano Roosevelt (that supposed enemy of free markets), Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton. A 2000 study by the editors of the Stock Trader’s Almanac, one of the most authoritative sources of Wall Street statistics, drew the same conclusions from examining the rise and fall of the Dow Jones, except that their conclusions were even more favorable to Democrats, who posted gains of 13.4 percent against 8.1 percent for Republicans. Editor Jeffrey Hirsch told Slate that the correlation between presidential party and stock appreciation was among the most significant statistical relationships he had ever seen.
“I don’t know why people are convinced Republicans are good for the stock market,” said Hirsch.
Stock indexes don’t necessarily provide the most salient measure of economic progress, especially from a Democratic perspective. But by every economic yardstick — whether it is gross domestic product, job creation, overall employment, disposable income, deficit reduction, spending restraint, or inflation — the record of the Democratic presidencies is superior. This isn’t propaganda, it’s statistics. Someday, a politician who is not afraid of being called partisan will unveil that historical record to the public — and urge them to let it guide their voting decisions.