Fact Check: Obama is the Worst Debt President in History

By Dave Van Zandt (12/18/15)

mostly-trueIf I had a dollar for every time someone claimed stats lie, or they can be manipulated, well, I wouldn’t be in debt.  The fact is stats can be cherry picked to get almost any result you want, which is a major problem when it comes to media reporting on science and statistics based stories.  To answer the question of whether President Obama is the worst debt President in history I will provide a wealth of stats to avoid the accusations of cherry picking and manipulation.  I will then summarize and come to a conclusion.

The following figure (1) shows each Presidents total accumulated debt adjusted for inflation to 2014.  The CPI index calculator is used to recalculate debt at the year of each President’s final budget ended.

Figure 1

President Total Debt Adjusted to 2014 Inflation
Bush Jr. (R ) -$6,438,373,932,000.64
Obama (D ) -$6,167,000,000,000.00
Reagan (R ) -$3,497,572,885,000.11
Roosevelt (D ) -$3,063,860,950,000.06
Bush Sr. (R ) -$2,507,968,424,000.63
Clinton (D ) -$1,865,729,447,000.39
Ford (R ) -$862,888,318,000.45
Carter (D ) -$766,865,582,000.90
Nixon (R ) -$572,996,498,000.03
Johnson (D ) -$267,512,434,000.31
Eisenhower (R ) -$179,565,816,000.54
Kennedy (D ) -$173,253,713,000.21
Hoover (R ) -$108,280,441,000.72
Coolidge (R ) -$68,300,971,000.69
Truman (D ) -$61,107,022,000.67
Wilson (D ) +$26,174,196,000.78
Harding (R ) +$27,440,119,000.24

Figure 1 gives some good information, for example, President Obama has accumulated more debt in 5 years than George W. Bush did in 8 years, but when adjusted for inflation Bush actually accumulated more debt.  A better measure would be to see how much debt each President averaged per year of their Presidency.  This will allow us to compare 4 year President’s into the equation.

Figure (2) shows the 2014 adjusted debt divided by the years in office.  This gives an average debt per year for each President.  This is a much stronger indicator of how well each President controlled debt.

Figure 2

President Average Adjusted Debt Per Year
Obama (D ) -$1,233,400,000,000.00
Bush Jr. (R ) -$804,796,741,500.08
Bush Sr. (R ) -$626,992,106,000.16
Reagan (R ) -$437,196,610,625.01
Roosevelt (D ) -$255,321,745,833.34
Clinton (D ) -$233,216,180,875.05
Carter (D ) -$191,716,395,500.23
Ford (R ) -$172,577,663,600.09
Nixon (R ) -$114,599,299,600.01
Kennedy (D ) -$57,751,237,666.74
Johnson (D ) -$53,502,486,800.06
Hoover (R ) -$27,070,110,250.18
Eisenhower (R ) -$22,445,727,000.07
Coolidge (R ) -$11,383,495,166.78
Truman (D ) -$7,638,377,750.08
Wilson (D ) +$3,271,774,500.10
Harding (R ) +$13,720,059,500.12

The results of figure 2 show that when factoring in the total number of years, President Obama has the highest debt accumulation per year than any other President.  There are still other ways to calculate debt that factor in population.  As population grows so to does government spending to support more people and resources.  If tax revenue does not keep up with spending to support a larger population, or spending increases rapidly, then increased debts may occur.

Figure (3) shows the average debt per person based on the accumulated adjusted debt for each President.  The equation is simple.  Total 2014 adjusted debt divided by population.

Figure 3

President Average Debt Per Person
Roosevelt (D ) -$21,884.72
Bush Jr. (R ) -$20,971.90
Obama (D ) -$19,332.29
Reagan (R ) -$14,160.21
Bush Sr. (R ) -$9,646.03
Clinton (D ) -$6,546.42
Ford (R ) -$3,922.22
Carter (D ) -$3,341.46
Nixon (R ) -$2,677.55
Johnson (D ) -$1,317.80
Eisenhower (R ) -$975.90
Kennedy (D ) -$902.36
Hoover (R ) -$859.37
Coolidge (R ) -$559.84
Truman (D ) -$381.92
Wilson (D ) +$241.24
Harding (R ) +$245.00

By using the measure of average debt per person President Obama falls to 3rd place behind Theodore Roosevelt and George W. Bush.  However, there is still one more way to calculate a President’s debt.

Figure (4) shows the classic Debt by Percentage of GDP.  This has traditionally been the most used and accurate measure of a President’s debt and it’s impact.

Figure 4

President Federal Debt Percent of GDP
Roosevelt (D ) 113.99%
Obama (D ) 102.16%
Bush Jr. (R ) 82.36%
Truman (D ) 68.25%
Bush Sr. (R ) 63.25%
Clinton (D ) 54.32%
Eisenhower (R ) 51.95%
Reagan (R ) 50.69%
Kennedy (D ) 46.09%
Hoover (R ) 39.40%
Johnson (D ) 35.86%
Ford (R ) 33.86%
Wilson (D ) 32.26%
Nixon (R ) 31.24%
Carter (D ) 30.98%
Harding (R ) 25.92%
Coolidge (R ) 16.19%

According to debt by percent of GDP, President Roosevelt is the worst followed by President Obama.  Interestingly, both Presidents faced a similar situation of an economy in depression for Roosevelt and a great recession for President Obama.

Results: President Obama is either first or in the top 3 in four different measures of debt.  He is first in debt average per year through 5 fiscal years.  He is second to George W. Bush in total 2014 adjusted debt, but he still has 3 fiscal years remaining and will surely surpass him if he has not already.  As of 2015 President Obama has lowered the debt to GDP percentage to 100%, so it would appear he will not catch Roosevelt in this measure.  It is questionable if he will catch Roosevelt in the debt per person category.  What is certain, is Obama is the worst for debt in the last 70 years.  The fact check was on whether President Obama is the worst in history.  It is very close.  We rate it Mostly True.



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