ground game

Three numbers to measure Donald Trump’s presidency

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during his meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President-elect Donald Trump spoke after meeting with President Barack Obama (not pictured) in November.

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A US presidency under Donald Trump promises to be unpredictable -- but the ways to judge his presidency will probably be relatively conventional.

Even though Trump will face an increasingly complicated world, his domestic policy -- chiefly America’s economic health -- will largely determine whether he is reelected. So here are three numbers to grade a Trump presidency -- starting now.

To be sure, some of these economic factors will be largely out of Trump’s control, so they might be considered unfair evaluation measures. But presidents get blame and credit for many events over which they have little control (think #ThanksObama).


What’s more, Trump ran a campaign that promised to change Washington and to Make America Great Again. Those promises will be harder to quantify. Easier to evaluate are these three economic factors:

1. What is the unemployment rate?

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Trump will enter office while America has a national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. At the same time, Trump has promised more and better-paying jobs to working class and minority communities. The moment he takes the oath of office is the moment that he must somehow turn those promises into reality.

It is as simple as this: if Trump, with a Republican-led Congress, cannot improve on a reasonably low unemployment rate, he will have to somehow convince voters that his assumed 2020 reelection campaign is about something else. That’s not an easy task.

2. Where is the Dow Jones Industrial Average?

The Dow is hardly a great economic data point because it only tracks the average growth of the 30 largest companies in the American economy. But over time, it has become the default number -- at least politically -- to determine whether the American economy is doing well or in a slump.

Since Trump was elected, the Dow has gone up. But what about the next few years? Trump, like all presidents, would rather like to talk about the Dow on the upswing.


Still, it’s worth noting that the average tells economists (and voters) little about the pocketbook factors that really hit home -- the price of rent, the reliability of a job, or the quality of that job. Given that Trump ran a populist campaign against Wall Street, it is ironic that the Dow will be watched at all. But it will be.

3. What is Trump’s approval rating?

Trump enters the White House as the least popular incoming president in the history of polling. In 2020, Trump may not be facing a roughly equally unpopular candidate as Hillary Clinton. In fact, the metric that many historians use is whether the president’s own approval rating is at 50 percent or above -- regardless of any challenger on the horizon.

Even in a lagging economy, voters will reelect a popular president (see Obama, Barack: 2012). But if Trump is serious about turning his tenure from four to eight years, he’ll need to find a way to win over more converts to his message.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.