Contrary to a widely held popular belief, political history doesn’t anoint incumbent presidents as automatic winners or even presumptive favorites. The numbers show that most presidents fail in their efforts to maintain a long-term hold on the affections of the fickle public.
Of the 43 men who served as president before the current incumbent, only 16 won two consecutive elections.
Among the others, five died during their first terms, seven incumbents declined to run, five tried but failed to win their party’s nomination, and 10 won the nomination but lost their bids for reelection. What’s more, three former presidents (Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, and Theodore Roosevelt) attempted to make comebacks and roared out of retirement as third-party candidates; all three failed miserably in November, winning between 10 and 27 percent of the popular vote.