Do Presidents Matter?

It's not clear that the White House can change the economy, yet the economy can change the White House

Brooks Kraft / Corbis

Freshly printed refund checks

For decades, scholars have been churning out studies on the impact the economy has on presidential elections. The not-very-surprising message of most of them: economic trouble is bad news for the party that occupies the White House.

The seemingly far more important question of what impact Presidents have on the economy has been studied less, with far less conclusive results. See, it's not just journalists who obsess over campaign horse races and neglect issues. It's economists and political scientists too.

The reason is that separating cause and effect on Presidents and the economy is hard. Yes, over the past half-century, Democratic...

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