Precedents of the Presidential Election

Written by Jacob Howard

The approaching 2020 election is accompanied by controversy. The eager and crowded Democratic field is beginning to narrow down to a handful of candidates; meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is conducting impeachment inquiries on President Trump. However, in times of controversy, looking at the past can sometimes help predict the future.

Since 1900, twenty presidents have sought re-election. Of those twenty, fifteen presidents secured a second term, while five of those elections saw the incumbent defeated. The five incumbents who did not win re-election were Presidents Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, and H.W. Bush. 


President Taft

President William Howard Taft succeeded President Teddy Roosevelt, after Roosevelt promised the American people he would not seek a second full term. Taft won the electoral college with 321 votes; however, after Taft’s first term, Roosevelt returned seeking re-election, as he was not happy with the job Taft was doing in office. Taft ran as the Republican nominee, while Roosevelt ran as an independent for the progressive party. Taft and Roosevelt running against one another caused a split Republican Party, allowing Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson to secure the presidency with 435 electoral votes.


President Hoover 

President Herbert Hoover was the Republican nominee and incumbent president for the election of 1932. His opponent, the Democratic nominee, was Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. Hoover was the sitting president at the start of the Great Depression in 1929 and conditions for the American people had only worsened. Roosevelt’s promise to fix the economy accompanied by the American public’s unhappiness toward President Hoover secured Roosevelt the presidency with 472 electoral votes. 


President Ford

President Ford’s presidency was unprecedented. After the Watergate scandal, which ended with the resignation of the Nixon Administration, President Ford filled the vacant office, becoming the first ever President that was not elected by the American people. Despite Ford’s efforts, many Americans were unhappy that their president was not someone they had chosen. Additionally, many Americans could not look past the Watergate scandal and desired a change of administrations. This allowed Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter to secure the presidency, in a close race, with 297 electoral votes. 


President Carter

After one term, President Carter suffered the same fate that President Ford did, losing re-election. Democrats were unhappy with President Carter due to high unemployment and inflation rates. The bad economy and disapproval within the Democratic party allowed the Republican nominee Ronald Reagan to win the presidency with 489 electoral votes.


President H.W. Bush

Finally, President George H.W. Bush entered his re-election when the economy was in a recession. Bush, who was elected due to his skills in foreign policy, had seen the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. The resolution of major foreign policy disputes caused Americans to desire more change domestically, which was one of the major platforms Bill Clinton–the Democratic nominee–was running on. Additionally, Ross Perot ran as a third party candidate, gaining support from many Republicans who had previously supported Bush. The combination of all these factors allowed Bill Clinton to secure the presidency with 370 electoral votes.


Given past elections, the general events that can lead to an incumbent President losing reelection are an economy experiencing a recession, a loss of support within the incumbent’s own party, or a popular third party candidate. Currently, our economy is performing at record high levels, with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, as well as all-time low unemployment rates for the Hispanic and African-American communities. President Trump appears to have strong support within the Republican party, boasting a 94% approval rating. Based on these factors, it is probably safe to assume that President Trump will win re-election in 2020; however, there is no telling how other factors will affect the election. If there is serious progress in the impeachment inquiries, or a popular third party candidate enters the race, it is possible that a Democrat will be in the White House come 2021. 

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