Mitt Romney routinely criticizes President Obama’s record as a steward of the economy, because the recovery since the financial crisis has been slow.
If he is elected, Romney says, he would boost economic growth to 4 percent, double the current level — a rate that would outdo every Republican administration going back to 1953.
But despite the view held by many that the GOP is the party of economic prosperity and soaring stock markets, the opposite has historically been true. Over the past six decades, Republican administrations have produced median economic growth of 2.6 percent. Democratic administrations, meanwhile, have produced a median growth rate of 4.2 percent.
And for all of Wall Street’s angst about Obama, the market has done quite well during his administration. Since his inauguration, stocks have returned about 12.3 percent annually, in line with market performance under Democratic administrations going back to 1913, according to S&P Capital IQ, a New York Research firm that compiled the data. During Republican administrations, stocks have risen a median 5.1 percent annually.
Of course, Obama is partly benefitting from a good comparison: In the months before his election, the stock market endured one of its greatest slides ever, as the financial crisis exploded. Even now, stock prices are not back to the peak before his election.
“The market actually does better under Democrats than Republicans, not just the S&P 500, but earnings and the economy,’’ said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ.
An even closer parsing of financial data reveals another surprising fact: Markets have been at their best when there’s a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. Historically, that combination has turned out 15 percent average annual returns, compared with 5 percent returns with a Republican president and Democrat-controlled Congress.
Why is that? James Swanson, chief investment strategist at MFS Investment Management in Boston, said: “One of the theories is that under Democratic presidents – though not always – there tends to be more federal stimulus. That tends to be good for business, despite what the Republicans say.”
Another popular line of argument is that the economy and stock markets fare well under Democratic presidents because of policies that were put in place by their Republican predecessors.
Romney has argued that tax cuts, not government spending, are best for fueling economic growth. Under President George W. Bush, who implemented a number of tax cuts, corporate earnings grew at a median 14.2 percent annually from 2001 to 2008. Under Obama, they have risen 51.8 percent, but again in part due to how much they fell during the global financial meltdown.
Stocks rose 3.3 percent a year under Bush, according to S&P, about a quarter of their returns under Obama.
According to Ned Davis Research, stocks do best whenever an incumbent president has won, regardless of political party. And no matter who wins, markets like the end of the uncertainty that the run-ups to elections present.
Stock returns tend to be weakest in the first two years of a president’s term, and to peak in the third year, in part, Swanson said, because all presidents, regardless of party, tend to approve the most stimulus, in the form of additional government spending, in that year.
In the near term, the rest of the year is likely to produce positive returns. Excluding the years when there has been a crisis, such as at the end of 2008, stocks typically rise 5 percent in November and December following a presidential election, Swanson said. That’s generally because, no matter who wins, the markets breathe easier when the questions are over.
“The uncertainty spooks the market,’’ he said.