Data on National Debt by President
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Left Debt Change Office Years %GDP per Year R:Bush II 2002 2 59.80 0.90 D:Clinton 2000 8 58.00 -0.76 R:Bush I 1992 4 64.10 3.05 R:Reagan 1988 8 51.90 2.31 D:Carter 1980 4 33.40 -0.70 R:Ford 1976 3 36.20 0.20 R:Nixon 1973 5 35.60 -1.38 D:Johnson 1968 5 42.50 -1.86 D:Kennedy 1963 3 51.80 -1.40 R:Eisenhower 1960 8 56.00 -2.29 D:Truman 1952 74.30
Here's the same data, tightened up, with the three-decades old data discarded, and sorted from best-to-worst:
Change in the National Debt, as a yearly percentage of GDP. Sorted Best-to-Worst. D:Clinton -0.76 (reduced the debt) D:Carter -0.70 (reduced the debt) R:Ford 0.20 (no change) R:Bush II 0.90 (increased the debt) R:Reagan 2.31 (increased the debt) R:Bush I 3.05 (increased the debt)
Notice that fifty years ago, the debt was huge: that's because WWII was very expensive. Afterward, both parties wisely cooperated to pay down the huge war debt. Ford was the first president to break with that tradition. From that point forward, every Republican worked hard to push us deeper into debt, every Democrat worked hard to get us out of debt.
The change in the Republican party that started with Ford is visible in most of the other statistics as well. Check them out.
Here's how I compiled this table: I went to the OMB and got the table that shows total government debt for each year starting in 1940. For each president, I wrote down the last year he was in office, and therefore, the last year he had control over the budget. I also wrote down the total debt in that year, as a percent of GDP (I do not know if that was the debt at the start, middle, or end of the year: it doesn't make much difference, since most presidents were in office much longer than that.) I then compared each president's debt level as a percentage of GDP to the level of the president before, calculated the difference, and divided by the number of years in office.