In November 2020, a 2018 graphic comparing President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama “by the numbers” resurfaced on social media. The chart presents figures showing the Trump administration had outperformed the Obama administration in terms of presidential approval, unemployment, job growth, the federal deficit and gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
Shared more two years after similar posts went viral, the numbers in the posts largely come from an Aug. 2018 CNN graphic comparing Trump and Obama about a year and a half into the presidency. The alleged 50% approval rating for President Trump, however, was altered from the original CNN graphic, which read 40%.
One such post, first shared on Facebook in Sept. 2018, can be found here . At the time of this article’s publication, the post had been shared over 17,000 times.
The post began to circulate again in late 2020, both leading up to the 2020 presidential election (here) and following major news outlets’ decision to call the race for Joe Biden ( here , here and here ). In these later shares, no date for the figures being compared is given, which may have led some to conclude that the figures were recent. Moreover, these figures lack meaning without considering the wider economic context in which they were recorded.
As reported here by Snopes on Aug. 13, 2018, President Trump’s oldest child, Donald Trump, Jr., shared the graphic in a now-deleted Instagram on Aug. 8 (here). The image, however, “was a doctored version of a graphic that was originally used during a CNN fact-checking segment regarding a tweet posted by President Trump about his approval numbers,” according to Snopes.
Snopes reports that CNN's chief national correspondent John King, who was fact checking an Aug. 5, 2018 tweet by President Trump (here), had used the image of these metrics to compare the two presidents at around the same point in their terms (here). Donald Trump, Jr., however, had shared a version with his father’s approval rating edited from 40% to 50%, a number higher than Gallup, cited as CNN’s source, had ever reported for Trump’s approval rating.
This fact check article will compare presidential approval ratings, unemployment numbers, job growth data, the federal deficit level and GDP growth at both 18 months into Trump and Obama’s respective presidencies as well as at the end of their respective terms.
As reported by Gallup for the weeks of both July 19-25 and July 26-Aug. 1, 2010, Obama’s approval rating, as both CNN reported and subsequent social media posts claimed, was at 45% (here).
According to Gallup, Obama averaged an approval rating of 49.7% during his presidency. His highest was at 69% during the first few days of his presidency in Jan. 2009 while his lowest -- 38% -- occurred in Aug. and Oct. 2011, and then again in Sept. 2014. Obama’s final presidential approval rating, taken by Gallup Jan. 17-19, 2017, was 59% (here)
As stated in Snopes’ 2018 fact check, CNN, using Gallup polling data, reported a 40% approval rating for Trump – not 50% as the social media posts claim. Indeed, Gallup shows him at 40% approval for July 23-29, 2018 and at 41% the following week (here).
At the time of this article’s publication, Gallup had not reported an approval rating at or above 50% for Trump during his presidency so far. His highest approval rating to date is 49%, which has happened five times, the most recent being the week of May 1-13, 2020. His lowest is 35%, which has happened four times, the most recent being the week of Dec. 11-17, 2017 (here).
President Trump’s term average to date is 41%. According to Gallup’s most recent polling, conducted Nov. 5-19, 2020, his latest approval rating is 43% (here).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the unemployment rate for July 2010, about a year and a half into the Obama administration, was 9.5% (here). One month prior, it was 9.4%, which matches the value in both the CNN graphic and the social media posts (here).
The highest unemployment rate under the Obama administration was 10%, which occurred in Oct. 2009 as the country was beginning its recovery from the Great Recession ( here , here ). The lowest unemployment rate during the Obama years was at the end of his presidency in Dec. 2016 and Jan. 2017, when it was at 4.7%. When Obama was inaugurated in Jan. 2009, unemployment was at 7.8%. By the time he left office in Jan. 2017, unemployment was at 4.7%.
The highest unemployment rate under Trump was 14.7% in April 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States (here). The lowest unemployment rate during Trump’s presidency so far was 3.5%, which occurred in Feb. 2020—just before nationwide shutdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus began. When Trump was inaugurated in Jan. 2017, unemployment was at 4.7%. According to the latest BLS data, unemployment in Oct. 2020 was at 6.9%.
Reporting figures consistent with the 2018 CNN graphic, social media posts receiving recent shares claim that the U.S. economy gained 3.2 million jobs under Trump and lost 2.9 million jobs under Obama.
Though the Reuters Fact Check team was not able to pinpoint the exact date in Obama’s presidency when a net 2.9 million jobs had been lost, it did find that over 3.6 million non-farm jobs were lost from January 2009, the month of Obama’s inauguration, through July 2010, about a year and a half into his presidency (here). Reuters reporting from 2009 on U.S. joblessness in the aftermath of the recession is available here .
The CNN graphic and subsequent posts seem to have used non-farm payrolls data as reported for May 2018, a point at which over 3,200,000 jobs had been added to the economy since Jan. 2017, the month Trump was inaugurated (here). Between Jan. 2017 and July 2018, nearly 3.4 million jobs were added.
According to Reuters calculations using BLS data (here), the U.S. economy gained 11.4 million non-farm jobs between Jan. 2009 and Dec. 2016, the time period coinciding with Obama’s eight years in office.
According to preliminary BLS data for last month, the U.S. economy has experienced a net loss of nearly 3.3 million jobs since January 2017, the month Trump’s presidency began (here). Between January 2017 and February 2020, however, just before the onset of nationwide shutdowns to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a net 6.8 million non-farm jobs had been added.
The figures used in the chart vary between different iterations, and in any case can be updated with full-year figures for the years in question. Coming out of the Great Recession at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2009 (Oct. 2008 to Oct.2009), the federal government recorded a total budget deficit of $1.4 trillion (www.cbo.gov/publication/24992), the highest level of federal deficit during the Obama administration (here). In FY 2010, Obama’s first full fiscal year in office, it was $1.3 trillion (www.cbo.gov/publication/25107).
As reported here by Reuters, the federal deficit for FY 2017, which began during Obama’s presidency and ended during Trump’s presidency, was $666 billion—the lowest federal deficit with Trump as president. In FY 2018, Trump’s first full fiscal year in office, it was $779 billion (here) .
FY 2020, which began in Oct. 2019 and ended in Oct. 2020, has had by far the highest federal deficit of Trump’s presidency due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (here). As reported www.cbo.gov/topics/budget by the Congressional Budget Office, the federal budget deficit in FY 2020 totaled $3.1 trillion.
Often these figures are expressed as a proportion of GDP for analysis purposes across a period of years.
A year and a half into Obama’s presidency, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), defined here by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the “monetary value of final goods and services… produced in a country in a given period of time,” had grown the previous quarter (Jan. 1 – March 31. 2010) by 1.6% (here).
During the second quarter of 2018, the GDP grew by 4.2% (here). In Aug. 2018, the date of the published graphic, CNN had likely reported the advanced estimate of 4.1%.
A chart showing annual growth of the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States from 1990 to 2019 can be seen here . The GDP figures for 2020 show a major contraction due to pandemic restrictions, followed by a rebound. At the end of the third quarter, the economy was 3.5% below where it was at the end of 2019, Reuters reported here .
Misleading. The graphic gives a presidential approval rating for Trump that does not tally with Gallup data. Recent shares of this post do not specify the time frame being compared, lack contextual information and capture a single snapshot in time, rather than the full performance of either president.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.