See the accompanying figure for the ranking of all the presidents as well as the tables listing the top and bottom ten performers. The average growth rate for all of these presidents was 1.7 percent ranging from a high of 9.9 percent to a low of -5.5 percent. And the winner is? James Garfield with an average of 9.9 percent. Unfortunately, he is a bit of a one-year wonder as he only served in 1881 and was assassinated. The next highest is Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) at 7.4 percent with the good fortune of not holding office during the depth of the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933 as well as robust war-time growth. Herbert Hoover, who held office during the period 1929 to 1933, saw the worst performance of real per capita GDP growth of all presidents at -5.5 percent annually.
The top ten performers by this metric include Abraham Lincoln (2.9 Percent) as well as George Washington (3.4 percent). The range for the top 10 is from 9.9 to 2.9 percent. As for the bottom ten, the range is from 0.3 percent (Thomas Jefferson) to of course Herbert Hoover’s -5.5 percent. Interesting that Harry Truman and Andrew Johnson are in the bottom ten and both held office immediately after a major war and its booming effects though Truman also overlaps with the Korean War. Woodrow Wilson held office til 1921 and thus also served both during and immediately after a major war and at 0.4 percent he misses the bottom ten by two positions. Given he is running for re-election, Barack Obama is also unfortunately in the bottom ten but then he has served in what many regard as the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Grover Cleveland and Martin Van Buren, two more of the bottom performers, also served during major economic downturns. If you are going to be a US President and want to be remembered for good economic times, it often helps to serve during a major war. You should avoid holding office immediately after a major war and definitely make sure you avoid holding office during economic depressions.