We went back to look at when modern presidents announced their decisions to seek a second term, what their Gallup approval ratings were at the time and how things turned out for them.
One theme: Primary battles are a sign of whether a president will win reelection. That’s good news for Biden, who appears to have avoided any significant challengers.
He was vice president when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in 1945, near the end of World War II. Truman decided to run for a full term of his own, and he announced his candidacy on March 8, 1948. He had an approval rating of 53% in a poll conducted two months earlier. Truman was expected to lose the general election to Thomas Dewey, a Republican, but he pulled off a narrow victory.
Truman announced on March 29, 1952, that he would not seek a second full term after losing in the New Hampshire primary to Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. His approval rating had sunk to 22% amid economic trouble and the Korean War.
Eisenhower, a Republican, had an approval rating of 75% shortly before he announced his reelection campaign on Feb. 29, 1956. He had suffered a heart attack months earlier at age 64, leading to questions over whether he would run.
As the former supreme allied commander during World War II, Eisenhower convinced Americans that he was the right leader on the world stage. He defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, before he had a chance to run for a second term.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
Johnson was vice president at the time of Kennedy’s death, and he swiftly ran for his first full term in 1964, winning a landslide victory over Republican Barry Goldwater. However, the Democrat’s popularity slipped badly over the Vietnam War and domestic turmoil.
It became clear that Johnson was at risk of losing his party’s nomination in 1968 after Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing in the New Hampshire primary. Soon after, Johnson shocked the country by announcing on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek a second term. His approval rating was only 36% that month.
Nixon had an approval rating of 50% when he announced his reelection campaign on Jan. 7, 1972. The Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters occurred that summer, but the scandal didn’t gain enough momentum to drag him down.
Nixon, a Republican, defeated George McGovern, a Democrat, in a landslide. However, he would not finish his second term, resigning in 1974 after revelations about Watergate caught up with him.
Ford, a Republican, became president when Nixon stepped down, and he announced that he would run for a full term of his own on July 8, 1975. He had a 52% approval rating the month before.
He faced discontent over inflation and controversy from his decision to pardon Nixon, and he lost the election to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.
Carter announced his reelection campaign on Dec. 4, 1979. His approval rating had just hit 51%. However, the American people had grown weary of inflation, an energy crisis and a hostage crisis in Iran. Carter was wounded by a primary challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy, and he was ultimately defeated by Ronald Reagan, a Republican.
Reagan announced his reelection bid on Jan. 29, 1984. His approval rating was 52% that month. Despite concerns about his age — he was 73 and the oldest president in history at the time — Reagan handily defeated Walter Mondale, a Democrat.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH
Bush’s popularity skyrocketed after the Gulf War, when US forces pushed Iraq out of Kuwait. However, his approval rating had subsided to 65% by the time he announced his reelection campaign on Oct. 11, 1991.
Pat Buchanan challenged Bush in the Republican primary. Although Bush won the nomination, his shot at a second term dimmed amid an economic downturn. He ultimately lost to Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Clinton’s approval rating was 47% when he announced that he would run for reelection on April 14, 1995. Democrats had suffered a wipeout midterm election in 1994, leading some to question whether Clinton would be a one-term president. But he rebounded with the help of a growing economy, and he defeated Bob Dole, a Republican.
GEORGE W. BUSH
The Sept. 11 attacks of 2001 led Bush, a Republican, to invade Afghanistan, followed by another war in Iraq. One month after US forces entered Baghdad, Bush announced he would run for reelection on May 16, 2003. His approval rating was 69% that month. He defeated John Kerry, a Democrat.
Obama, a Democrat, had a 48% approval rating when he announced his reelection campaign on April 4, 2011. He struggled to convince Americans that the economy was improving after the financial collapse and subsequent recession, but he ultimately defeated Mitt Romney, a Republican.
Trump, a Republican, announced that he would run for reelection on June 18, 2019. The previous month, his approval rating was 41%. He was impeached for the first time at the end of the year, and then the coronavirus pandemic stalled the economy. Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump, who tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
Biden announced his reelection campaign on April 25. His approval rating was 40% the previous month. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term, leading to fears that he’s too old to keep such a demanding job.
However, Biden has not drawn any significant primary challengers. The only Democrats running are Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Meanwhile, Trump is leading in Republican primary polls as he seeks the party’s nomination, raising the potential for a rematch with Biden.
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