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What Are the Odds of a Third Straight Republican Term in the White House?

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Opponents of Republican presidential nominee John McCain have been trying to derail his campaign by tying him to the hugely unpopular George W. Bush. Bush's approval numbers are still trickling downwards—now in the high 20s to low 30s in most national polls. One of the tactics used by the Democrats has been to call a McCain presidency a "third term" of President Bush.

Putting aside how a McCain presidency would govern vis-à-vis Bush, how likely is it that the party of an exiting two-term President could hold onto the power of the White House?

Smart Politics dug back into the history books and examined each of the 11 previous U.S. presidents that had been elected to and served at least two complete terms in office: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

Of the 10 presidents who were affiliated with a political party (George Washington was not), only 3 failed to have coattails for their party's subsequent nominee:

  • Democrat Wilson was succeeded by Republican Warren G. Harding in the 1920 election.
  • Republican Eisenhower was followed by Democrat John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election.
  • Democrat Bill Clinton gave way to Republican George W. Bush in 2000.

The political party of the remaining 7 presidents was able to keep control of the White House—at least for one more term. However, this has only happened two times since 1876.

  • Democrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson was succeeded by Democrat-Republican James Madison in the 1808 election.
  • Democrat-Republican James Madison was followed by Democrat-Republican James Monroe in the Election of 1816.
  • Democrat-Republican James Monroe was succeeded by Democrat-Republican John Quincy Adams in the Election of 1824 (note: each of the other three principle challengers to Adams were also Democrat-Republicans).
  • Democrat Andrew Jackson was followed by Democrat Martin Van Buren after the 1836 election.
  • Republican Ulysses S. Grant's administration gave way to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes after the 1876 election.
  • Republican Ronald Reagan was succeeded by Republican George H.W. Bush in the 1988 election.

Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was also succeeded by a Democrat, Harry S. Truman (elected in 1948), although that doesn't cleanly fit with the above examples as Truman had already served out the the remainder of Roosevelt's presidency after his death in April 1945.

In short, during the past 132 years, an exiting 2-term president's party has succeeded in retaining power in just one (Reagan to Bush) out of four instances. The time when political parties could control the White House in a dynasty-like fashion appears to be a relic of our political history.

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Remains of the Data

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A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

Political Crumbs

Final Four Has Presidential Approval

By edging Michigan in the final seconds Sunday, the University of Kentucky guaranteed that one school in the Final Four this year would be located in a state that was not carried by President Barack Obama in 2012. (Connecticut, Florida, and Wisconsin had previously earned Final Four slots over the weekend). Across the 76 Final Fours since 1939, an average of 3.1 schools have been located in states won by the president's ticket during the previous election cycle. All four schools have come from states won by the president 29 times, with the most recent being the 2009 Final Four featuring Connecticut, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Villanova. On 30 occasions three Final Four schools have been located in states won by the president, with two schools 11 times and only one school six times (the most recent being 2012 with Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, and Ohio State). There has never been a Men's NCAA Division I Final Four in which no schools were located in states carried by the president's ticket.


Three for the Road

A new Rasmussen Poll shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in a dead heat with likely 2014 Democratic nominee Mary Burke. Walker is seeking to win his third consecutive election after prevailing in 2012's recall contest. Eight of his predecessors accomplished this feat: Republicans Lucius Fairchild (in 1869), Jeremiah Rusk (1886), Robert La Follette (1904), Emanuel Philipp (1918), John Blaine (1924), Walter Kohler (1954), Warren Knowles (1968), and Tommy Thompson (1994). Three others Badger State governors lost on their third campaign: Democrat George Peck (1894), Progressive Philip La Follette (1938), and Republican Julius Heil (1942). One died in office before having the opportunity to win a third contest (GOPer Walter Goodland in 1947) while another resigned beforehand (Democrat Patrick Lucey in 1977 to become Ambassador to Mexico). Overall Wisconsin gubernatorial incumbents have won 35 of 47 general election contests, or 74.5 percent of the time.


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