Republicans like to portray themselves as the part of deregulation, but a new study from economists at the free market Mercatus Institute suggests that’s not actually true.

On the contrary, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have overseen the addition of tens of thousands of regulations in each and every presidential term over the last quarter century:

President Obama not only oversaw the greatest increase in regulatory restrictions in a single term, his first, but as of 2014 he has edged past President George W. Bush as the president with the greatest total increase in restrictions since 1976. Presidents Carter and George H. W. Bush both had increases of more than 70,000 in their first terms, but both lost their reelection bids. Interestingly, while Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton both added regulations at similar rates across their two terms—with Clinton adding significantly fewer restrictions overall compared to Bush—President Reagan oversaw a large increase in regulation during his first term, but a relatively small increase during his second term.

(Note that Obama’s second term displays a very low number primarily because it is not yet complete.)

Interestingly, while Ronald Reagan’s second term had “only” some 6,594 new regulations, Bill Clinton actually comes in as the president with the lowest average per term (a fact undoubtedly influenced by the Republican control of Congress for much of his presidency—Republicans seem to be a little more principled when they’re not holding presidential power).

As the study concludes, “a picture emerges of a 40-year bipartisan trend of regulatory accumulation, with the last two presidents adding the most regulatory restrictions.” With this in mind, voters should demand specific proposals and written pledges from any presidential candidate who claims he or she will buck this trend once in office.

Study: Both parties amp up regulations when they control the White House Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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