Monday, October 29, 2012

A Bit of Presidential Election Trivia, and a Hint About This Year's Presidential Election

Since the founding of the Republic the United States of America has had 43 different men serve as President.

Obama is the 44th President because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, making him the 22nd and 24th President. Cleveland remains the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms as President.

Of the 43 men to hold the office, only 38 have been elected to the office.

Eight men have succeeded to the Presidency when their predecessor died in office. Of those eight, four (TR, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and LBJ) subsequently ran for the Presidency and won the office.

One man (Gerald Ford) succeeded to the Presidency when his predecessor (Richard Nixon) resigned from office. Ford is also the only man to succeed to the Presidency without having been elected either President or Vice President. He was appointed after Nixon's Veep Spiro Agnew had to resign from office due to corruption. Thus Ford is the only appointed President in the history of the Republic.

Of the 42 men who have held the Presidency prior to Obama, 30 have run for re-election when their terms expired. (Well, Washington and Grant didn't run so much as they stood for re-election.) Of the twelve that didn't, four died before their first term was up (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield and Warren Harding), four men succeeded to the Presidency via the death of the previous President and they didn't stand for re-election (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore (my favorite President), Andrew Johnson and Chester A. Arthur), and four served out their terms and quit while they were ahead (James Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Rutherford B. Hayes).

Of the 30 men who have run for re-election prior to Obama, 20 have won their re-election bids. Sixteen of those men have won at least two Presidential elections. FDR won four, of course, and is the only man to do so. (US Grant actually flirted with running for a third term but ultimately wasn't willing to do the campaigning necessary to secure the Republican nomination in 1880.) 


And here's a bit of trivia that I haven't heard mentioned. Of the sixteen men who have won two or more Presidential elections, 15 of them have won more electoral votes the second time they ran.

There are some things to note about that last bit. First, the number of electoral votes has not been constant. As the nation added states it also added electoral votes. Since 1964 we have held steady at 538 electoral votes. But in many elections the number of electors has changed from four years previously.

The electoral system was changed after the 1800 election, so the first four elections featured a different system.

The 1864 election results were skewed by the Civil War.


Now I'm going to look at some individual successful re-election attempts. I'm only interested in men who won the office at least twice, not in men who won after being elevated after the death of the prior President. So no TR or LBJ below.

First in war, first in peace, first to get elected President and the first to get re-elected, George Washington stands alone as the most distinct President this nation has produced. But his re-election doesn't tell us much because of the differences in the electoral system then from now. But Washington ran largely unopposed, so the electoral votes don't really matter. Washington received the maximum number of electoral votes he could receive both times, and got more the second time because more states had joined the Union since the previous election.

Jefferson was the second man to win re-election. The electoral system was changed after the controversy that followed the 1800 election. Still, Jefferson got a larger share of available electoral votes for re-election.

James Madison (the Father of the Constitution) was the third man to win re-election. He got more electoral votes the second time around, but he actually got a smaller share of available electoral votes.

After that James Monroe and Andrew Jackson won more the second time (in terms of electoral votes available) they won the Presidency than they had the first time.

The next man to win re-election was Abraham Lincoln. The second election came in the year 1864 as the Civil War raged. Confederate States were not a part of the election. Still, Lincoln got more electoral votes absolutely and relatively. The 1864 election is the only election that had fewer electoral votes available than the previous elections.

The next President to win election for a second term was US Grant. He won easily the first time and won a bigger share the second time around.

The we get to the peculiar case of Grover Cleveland. As mentioned, he served two non-consecutive terms for the Presidency. He won in 1884, lost a re-election bid in 1888, and won again in 1892. When he won the Presidency the second time around, he did better than he did the first time.

William McKinley got re-elected before getting shot. Woodrow Wilson won re-election 16 years later. And he did MUCH worse than when he won the first time around. Wilson won 435 out of 531 electoral votes in 1912, but only won 277 out of 531 in 1916.

FDR won the Presidency in 1932 in landslide. When he ran in 1936 he won by an even bigger landslide. His third and fourth wins saw diminishing electoral totals, but all four wins were massive - these elections weren't close. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Goerge W. Bush each won more comfortably the second time around than the first. (It would have been difficult for W. to win less comfortably in 2004 than he did in 2000!)

But here's the upshot. Of the men who have won at least two Presidential elections, all but two of them have done better electorally the second time around than the first time around. The two exceptions were James Madison (the election took place a few months after the start of the War of 1812) and Woodrow Wilson, who benefited greatly in his first campaign from a split Republican vote.


The upshot: In the last election Barack Obama won 365 electoral votes. He has no chance of getting close to that total this time around. The exceptional circumstances that surrounded the elections and re-elections of James Madison and Woodrow Wilson do not exist this time. Is Obama going to buck history by winning fewer electoral votes the second time around? I don't think so.


NOTE: Popular vote totals are not as easy to get at as electoral totals. I am using electoral votes as a reasonable proxy. For one thing, voter eligibility changes have had large impacts on vote totals from one election to the next. For another, the population has generally grown from election to election. But voter participation also changes from election to election. Looking at those totals would take more time and analysis and likely won't tell me anything that the electoral totals don't tell us.


Janis Gore said...

From Reason:

Icepick said...

Well, it's science, and one can't argue with science!