Last Time Consecutive Democratic Presidents Were Elected

Portrait of James Buchanan, who served as the nation's 15th president from 1791-1868.
James Buchanan. National Archives/Getty Images News

Political analysts and Beltway pundits can debate the obstacles facing Democrats in the 2016 presidential election. But there's one inescapable truth facing the party's nominee, no matter if it's Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or Julian Castro: Voters rarely elect someone from the same party for consecutive terms.

“Mostly, the White House flips back and forth like a metronome. Voters just get tired after eight years,” the writer Megan McArdle wrote.

Explains political analyst Charlie Cook: "They tend to conclude that it is 'time for a change,' and they trade the in party for the out party."

Related Story: Who's Running for President in 2016?

In fact, since American politics evolved into what we know as the current two-party system, the last time voters elected a Democrat to the White House after a president from the same party had just served a full term was in 1856, before the Civil War. If that's not enough to scare of presidential hopefuls in the Democratic Party who want to succeed two-term President Barack Obama, what is?

Last Democrat to Succeed a Democrat

The last Democrat elected to succeed a Democratic president was James Buchanan, the 15th president and the only one ever to come from Pennsylvania. Buchanan succeeded President Franklin Pierce.

Related Story: Why Presidents Can Serve Only 2 Terms

You'd have to go back even further in history to find the most recent instance of a Democrat being elected to succeed a two-term president from the same party.

The last time that happened was in 1836, when voters elected Martin Van Buren to follow Andrew Jackson.

This, of course, does not include the four terms of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt; he was elected to the White House in 1932 and re-elected in 1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt died less than a year into his fourth term, but he is the only president to have served more than two terms.

Why It's So Rare

There are very good explanations for why voters rarely choose a president from the same party for three consecutive terms. The first and most obvious one is fatigue with and unpopularity of the president who is completing his second and final term at the time of the election for his successor.

Related Story: Could Obama Win a Third Term in Office?

That unpopularity often sticks to the candidate of the same party. Just ask some of the Democrats who sought unsuccessfully to succeeded Democratic presidents including Adlai Stevenson in 1952) Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and, most recently, Al Gore in 2000. 

Another reason is distrust of people and parties who hold power for too long. "The distrust of people in power ... dates back to the age of the American Revolution and the mistrust of hereditary rulers with no curbs on their powers," wrote the National Constitution Center.

What It Means for 2016

The rarity of presidents from the same party being elected consecutively is not lost on political analysts when it comes to the 2016 presidential election. Many believe the success of Hillary Clinton, the most likely contender for Democratic nominee, hinges on who the Republicans choose.

Opined the New Republic:

"The Democrats could benefit if the Republicans nominate a relatively inexperienced right-winger or someone who possesses the temperament of a high school football coach rather than a president ... If they opt for an experienced centrist in 2016 — Florida’s Jeb Bush is the obvious example — and if the party’s right wing doesn’t demand he toe the line, they could stand a good chance of reclaiming the White House and of confirming Americans’ reluctance to keeping the same party in the White House three terms in a row."

 

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "Last Time Consecutive Democratic Presidents Were Elected." ThoughtCo, Jun. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/two-consecutive-democratic-presidents-3368109. Murse, Tom. (2017, June 30). Last Time Consecutive Democratic Presidents Were Elected. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/two-consecutive-democratic-presidents-3368109 Murse, Tom. "Last Time Consecutive Democratic Presidents Were Elected." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/two-consecutive-democratic-presidents-3368109 (accessed May 21, 2018).