Here is the methodology:
To compare presidencies, I did the calculation two ways. One starts in the quarter before the president was elected (e.g., 2008Q4), the other starts in the first quarter of the presidency (e.g., 2009Q1). (The ARRA probably had some effect in Q1, but most of the change was simply economic conditions that the incoming president had nothing to do with, so I think I prefer the Q1 to Q1 method). Ranking since Johnson (starting in 1968), and using the first-quarter comparisons, and calculating growth under Obama through 2011Q4, Clinton is the most austere, followed by Obama. The most spendthrift are (1) Nixon-Ford, (2) Reagan, and (3) Bush II. The figure is pasted [above.]
Andrew Sullivan reacts:
This is the kind of reality that makes Sean Hannity’s head explodes. So far, the GOP candidates have been running against a fictional president with a fictional record. Obama didn’t campaign to increase government spending, but inheriting what was in the final quarter of 2008 an annualized contraction of 9 percent of GDP, he opted for a stimulus. That accounts for much of the spending.
I know we are supposed – along with Fox News – to have total amnesia about the spending record of George W. Bush, who had nothing like the recession Obama inherited to counter. But there it is. Along with the fact that of the last seven presidents, the top three spenders are all Republicans.