Monday, March 29, 2004

Presidential Election Patterns: Implications for 2004

Presidential elections seem to follow patterns. Let's begin with one-term presidencies:

J Adams 1797-1801 (following Washington's two terms)
JQ Adams 1825-29 (following Monroe's two)
Van Buren 1837-41 (following Jackson's two)
WH Harrison-Tyler 1841-45 (following Van Buren's one)
Polk 1845-49 (following Harrison-Tyler's one)
Taylor-Fillmore 1849-53 (following Polk's one)
Pierce 1853-57 (following Taylor-Fillmore's one)
Buchanan 1857-61 (following Pierce's one)
Hayes 1877-81 (following Grant's two)
B Harrison 1889-1893 (sandwiched between Cleveland's two)
Taft 1909-13 (following TR's almost-two)
Hoover 1929-33 (following Coolidge's almost-two)
Carter 1977-81 (following Nixon-Ford's two)
Bush I 1989-93 (following Reagan's two)

Except for the string of one-term presidencies from 1837 to 1861 -- when the country was truly deeply divided and about to go to war with itself -- the other one-termers (but for B Harrison) followed two-termers. A two-term president, having been popular enough to win the second term, is a tough act to follow. (The exception here is Ford, who was only a fill-in for the reviled, second-term Nixon.)

There have been successive two-term presidencies, but they have come in two well-defined clusters. From 1801 to 1825, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe each held office for two terms. Then there was a gap of almost 100 years before another -- almost unbroken -- string of two-term presidencies, which ran from 1913 to 1977: Wilson (1913-21) followed by Harding-Coolidge (1921-29), then Roosevelt-Truman (1933-53) followed by Eisenhower (1953-61), followed by Kennedy-Johnson (1961-69), followed by Nixon-Ford (1969-77).

If, since 1977, we have reverted to something like a "normal" succession cycle -- a two-term presidency, followed by a one-term presidency, followed by a two-term presidency, etc. -- GW Bush supporters will not be happy come November 3.

Alternatively, because the country is again deeply divided -- if not on the verge of civil war -- we may be facing a new succession of one-term presidencies. That, too, would be bad news for Bush-ites.