Second-term curse

Last updated on 24 June 2017

The second-term curse is the perceived tendency of second terms of U.S. presidents to be less successful than their first terms.[1][2]

According to the "curse", the second terms of U.S. presidents have usually been plagued by a major scandal, policy inertia, some sort of catastrophe, or other problems.[3][4][5] There have been twenty-one U.S. presidents who have served a second term,[6] each of whom has faced difficulties attributable to the curse. The legend behind the second-term curse is that after Franklin D. Roosevelt broke the de facto second term limit by running for third and fourth terms, the ghost of George Washington might have put a curse on any president who seeks a second term.[4][5] This legend notwithstanding, several presidents who served prior to Roosevelt, including Washington himself, allegedly succumbed to the curse.[2]

Whether this perceived tendency is real is a subject of dispute: for example, political statistician Nate Silver, after analyzing presidential approval ratings for Harry S. Truman through Barack Obama, did find that approval ratings were lower on average during second terms, but he also found a variety of other reasons to explain those ratings, and he concluded that "the idea of the second-term curse is sloppy as an analytical concept".[7] In addition, political writer Michael Barone cited several presidents who had successful second-terms, and wrote that "second-term problems resulted more often from the failure to adjust to changed circumstances and unanticipated challenges".[2] Conversely, a report in The Economist has said that the existence of the second-term curse is supported by data. The report stated that each of the eleven second-terms served from the beginning of the Theodore Roosevelt administration to the end of the George W. Bush administration were less economically prosperous than their respective president's first term, save for the second-terms of Truman, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.[8]

An illustration of the assassination of William McKinley, an event which took place during McKinley's second term.

Presidents of the curse

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison.jpg
James Madison
James Monroe White House portrait 1819.gif
James Monroe
Andrew Jackson.jpg
Andrew Jackson
Abraham Lincoln O-77 matte collodion print.jpg
Abraham Lincoln
Ulysses S. Grant 1870-1880.jpg
Ulysses S. Grant
Grover Cleveland
William McKinley
President Theodore Roosevelt, 1904.jpg
Theodore Roosevelt
President Woodrow Wilson portrait December 2 1912.jpg
Woodrow Wilson
Calvin Coolidge, bw head and shoulders photo portrait seated, 1919.jpg
Calvin Coolidge
FDR in 1933.jpg
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman.jpg
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower, official photo portrait, May 29, 1959.jpg
Dwight D. Eisenhower
37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg
Richard Nixon
Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpg
Ronald Reagan
Bill Clinton.jpg
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Official portrait of Barack Obama.jpg
Barack Obama

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Was technically serving his first full term after finishing out the term of his predecessor, who died in office.
  2. ^ Became the first president to resign the office


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Clymer, Adam (November 7, 2012). "Triumphant Obama Faces New Foe in 'Second-Term Curse'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Barone, Michael (January 20, 2013). "Unlucky (Lame) Ducks?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Fournier, Ron (November 6, 2012). "5 Reasons Why Obama and Romney Will Get No Mandate". National Journal. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Bush sets out to salvage 2nd term". USA Today. October 31, 2005. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Duberstein, Kenneth M. (October 29, 2005). "Breaking the second-term curse". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Lehrman, Robert A. (January 19, 2013). "Obama's second term: What history says to expect". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Silver, Nate (May 16, 2013). "Is There Really a Second-Term Curse?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-05-19. My view, then, is that the idea of the second-term curse is sloppy as an analytical concept. There is certainly a historical tendency for presidents who earn a second term to become less popular — but some of this reflects reversion to the mean. And some recent presidents have overcome the supposed curse and actually become more popular on average during their second terms.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Second-term blues". The Economist. January 26, 2013. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d Amar, Akhil Reed (January–February 2013). "Second Chances". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  10. ^ Henningsen, Vic (January 21, 2013). "Henningsen: Second Term Curse". Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Cornwell, Rupert (November 2, 2013). "The curse of the second term hovers over hapless President Obama". The Independent. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e Broder, David (January 20, 2005). "Fending Off the 'Second-Term Curse'". Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  13. ^ a b Hughes, Brian (July 19, 2014). "The 10 worst second-term moments for presidents since Richard Nixon". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  14. ^ "Like Predecessors, Bush Has Second-Term Blues". Wall Street Journal. October 29, 2005. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Harwood, John (January 6, 2016). "Avoiding the Dreaded ‘Second-Term Curse’". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Pianin, Eric (October 22, 2014). "While Obama Skulks Around, Hillary Rides a Crest of Popularity". The Fiscal Times. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  17. ^ "A Complete List of Radical Islamic Terror Attacks on U.S. Soil Under Obama". Daily Wire. 2016-12-07. Retrieved 2017-01-30.

Content from Wikipedia