Was Obama the First President Without a Full Year of Three Percent GDP Growth?

A frequent talking point for President Trump and Republicans is that during President Obama’s term, the U.S. economy never grew three precent or better in a year. “Obama is the first president in modern history not to have a single year of three percent growth,” Mr. Trump said at a 2016 campaign rally in Manchester, N.H.

Depending on whether you view a year as any 12-month period or just the January to January calendar year, you can arrive at different conclusions. Fact-checkers have pointed out that there were two 12-month periods in which the economy grew 3% during Mr. Obama’s term. The economy grew 3.4% between the third quarters of 2009 and 2010 and 3.3% between the first quarters of 2014 and of 2015. Still, on a calendar year basis Mr. Trump’s statement is true. There was no calendar year during Mr. Obama’s term in which GDP growth exceeded 3%.

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Gross Domestic Product [GDPCA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, November 17, 2018.
Every modern President prior to Mr. Obama has indeed had a calendar year of GDP growth at 3% or greater. The economy grew an average of 2.1% during Obama’s tenure. That’s not the lowest, but it’s towards the bottom of the pack. In 2017, Mr. Trump’s first year in office, the economy faired only slightly better, with 2.2% GDP growth. However, the economy looks on track to grow at 3% or better in 2018. The economy logged impressive growth of 4.2% in the second quarter of 2018 and 3.5% in the third quarter. Still, during Mr. Obama’s term the economy logged growth higher than 4.2% in four quarters and higher than 3.5% in six quarters. But, Mr. Trump may surpass Mr. Obama in terms of annual GDP growth this year.

Fact-checkers have rated Mr. Trump’s claim as “mostly true” and some have called his statement misleading for failing to note 12-month periods of three percent growth under Obama. However, because Mr. Trump was clearly talking about calendar year growth, we judge Mr. Trump’s claim as accurate without need for qualification.

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