Do You Have to Be Rich to Be President?

Net Worth of Modern American Presidents is in the Millions

George W. Bush
George W. Bush was worth more than $10 million when he was elected president in 2000. Getty Images News

If you want to be president, you don't have to have a college degree or even be born on American soil. You've only got to be 35-years-old and a ​"natural-born" citizen of the United States.

Oh, yeah: You also need to have money. Lots of money.

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No, that's not spelled out in the U.S. Constitution's requirements to be president. But it's become a fact of American political life. Almost every modern president has been a millionaire at the time he was elected to the White House.

Why Money Matters

Why do you have to be rich to be president?

You need money to raise money, first. You need money to be able to take time off work to campaign, second. And you need money to taken seriously, third. 

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Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told National Public Radio's the protojournalist in 2013:

"Wealth has always been a major qualifying factor for the presidency. It gives you access to the other rich people who fund campaigns, the status to seek high office, the extra time necessary for an all-consuming quest, and freedom from the everyday concerns that keep most people occupied. Thus has it always been, thus ever will it be."

Wealth of 7 Modern Presidents

Here's a look at seven modern presidents and their net worth at the time of their election.

  • Joe Biden — Following his 2019 financial disclosures, Forbes estimated Biden to be worth approximately $9 million, including nearly $4 million in value alone from a pair of houses he and his wife Jill own.
  • Donald Trump — At the time of his election in 2016, Forbes estimated Trump's net worth at approximately $3.7 billion, making him by far the wealthiest president in history. However, Trump is famously cagey about his finances, and several sources, including Politico and The Washington Post, have questioned whether the value of his assets has been inflated.
  • Barack Obama — The Democratic former U.S. senator was worth an estimated $3,665,505 at the time of his election in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., watchdog group. Obama listed assets worth between $1,416,010 and $5,915,000 in his personal financial disclosure for that year. 
  • George W. Bush — The Republican former Texas governor, who started his own oil company and owned a major league baseball team, was worth an estimated $11 million to $29 million at the time of his election in 2000, according to The New York Times. The newspaper noted that Bush's assets made him one of the wealthiest presidents in decades.
  • Bill Clinton — The Democratic former Arkansas governor estimated his and eventual First Lady Hillary Clinton's net worth at $700,000 when he was elected in 1992. Clinton later told NBC’s Meet the Press that: "I think I had the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th century when I took office." 
  • George H.W. Bush — The Republican vice president and former oilman was worth $2.1 million when he was elected in 1988. As The New York Times noted: "Because of Vice President Bush's bearing, his privileged upbringing and his years in the oil business in Texas, he is often perceived as a man of great wealth." 
  • Ronald Reagan — The Republican former Hollywood actor was worth $4 million when he was elected to the White House in 1980. 


Wealth of 2016 Presidential Candidates

It appears the trend of electing millionaire presidents will continue in the 2016 election. Each of the candidates and likely candidates for 2016 is worth at least $1 million and likely much more, according to personal financial disclosures.

Related StoryA Guide to Money in Politics

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Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "Do You Have to Be Rich to Be President?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Murse, Tom. (2023, April 5). Do You Have to Be Rich to Be President? Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Do You Have to Be Rich to Be President?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).