List of Vice Presidents Who Were Elected President

Why the No. 2 Has Such a Difficult Time Getting to the White House

The list of vice presidents who were elected president is short: Only four vice presidents have ascended to the most powerful position in the United States in the 57 presidential elections since 1789.

There are just as many vice presidents who tried and failed to win election to the White House. The most recent incumbent vice president to fail was Democrat Al Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to Republican George W. Bush.

Related Story: When Are Vice Presidential Candidates Chosen

As speculation mounted in 2015 that Vice President Joe Biden would run for president in the 2016 election, he was likely considering the fact that it is far more common for governors and members of the U.S. Senate to go on to win the presidency.

Of course, many other vice presidents were elevated to president after assassinations, deaths and scandals. But they were not elected president. The most recent vice president to win a presidential election was Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Why Vice Presidents Have a Difficult Time Running For President

Presidents are far more likely to come from governors mansions or the U.S. Senate than they are from the Office of Vice President. There are a couple of theories about why that is.

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First, vice presidents have very little power and often work in obscurity. When they do appear or speak at public events their primary responsibility to support and fill in for their boss, the president of the United States.

Second, vice presidents have more difficulty being elected president because voters often are in the mood for change after four - or eight - years of the same party occupying the White House. The National Constitution Center calls it the "predilection of voters to see a change in power after a President serves multiple terms in office." Others call it a "wave election."

The only sitting vice presidents to campaign for and win presidential elections were:

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush
President George H.W. Bush was among the U.S. vice presidents who won election to president. Chris Graythen/Getty Images News

George H. W. Bush was vice president to two-term Republican President Ronald Reagan when he beat Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. 

Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren. Hulton Archive/Getty Images News

Martin Van Buren was vice president under Andrew Jackson in 1836 when he was elected president over whig William Henry Harrison and several other candidates. More »

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson. Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson was vice president under John Adams in 1800 when he was elected president over Adams. More »

John Adams

John Adams
John Adams. Getty Images

John Adams was vice president under George Washington when he defeated Thomas Jefferson in 1796, the third presidential election. 

What They Had In Common

The one trait that at least two of these four - Van Buren and Bush - shared was their prominence in American politics when they were vice president. As the National Constitution Center observed: "Van Buren was a top political organizer in the nascent Democratic Party. Bush had run against Ronald Reagan before becoming his Vice President, and he was a frontrunner in the 1988 GOP primaries with Reagan’s support."