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One Term Presidents

List of Incumbent U.S. Presidents Denied Re-Election


There have been nearly a dozen one term presidents who ran for second terms but were denied by voters, but only three one term presidents since World War II. The most recent one term president who lost his re-election bid was George H.W. Bush, a Republican who lost to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

See also: 5 Wacky Myths About Obama

Who are the other one term presidents in the history of the United States? Who are the other modern one term presidents? Why did voters turn their backs on them? Here's a look at America's one term presidents - those who ran for, but lost, re-election - through history. 

1. George H.W. Bush

Hulton Archives

Republican George H.W. Bush was the 41st president of the United States, serving from 1989 to 1993. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1992 to Democrat William Jefferson Clinton, who went on to serve two full terms.

Bush's official White House biography describes his re-election loss this way: "Despite unprecedented popularity from this military and diplomatic triumph, Bush was unable to withstand discontent at home from a faltering economy, rising violence in inner cities, and continued high deficit spending. In 1992 he lost his bid for reelection to Democrat William Clinton."


2. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter
Library of Congress

Democrat Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States, serving from 1977 to 1981. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1980 to Republican Ronald Reagan, who went on to serve two full terms.

Carter's White House biography blames several factors for his defeat, not the least of which was the hostage-taking of U. S. embassy staff in Iran, which dominated the news during the last 14 months of Carter's administration. "The consequences of Iran's holding Americans captive, together with continuing inflation at home, contributed to Carter's defeat in 1980. Even then, he continued the difficult negotiations over the hostages."

Iran released the 52 Americans the same day Carter left office.

3. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford
Gerald R. Ford Library

Republican Gerald R. Ford was the 38th president of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter, who went on to serve one term.

"Ford was confronted with almost insuperable tasks," his White House biography states. "There were the challenges of mastering inflation, reviving a depressed economy, solving chronic energy shortages, and trying to ensure world peace." In the end he could not overcome those challenges.

4. Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover
Library of Congress

Republican Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States, serving from 1929 to 1933. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1932 to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who went on to serve three full terms.

The stock market crashed within months of Hoover's first election in 1928, and the United States plunged into The Great Depression. Hoover became he scapegoat four years later.

"At the same time he reiterated his view that while people must not suffer from hunger and cold, caring for them must be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility," his biography reads. "His opponents in Congress, who he felt were sabotaging his program for their own political gain, unfairly painted him as a callous and cruel President."

5. William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft
Library of Congress

Republican William Howard Taft was the 27th president of the United States, serving from 1909 to 1913. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1912 to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who went on to serve two full terms.

"Taft alienated many liberal Republicans who later formed the Progressive Party, by defending the Payne-Aldrich Act which unexpectedly continued high tariff rates," Taft's White House biography reads. "He further antagonized progressives by upholding his secretary of the interior, accused of failing to carry out [former President Theodore] Roosevelt's conservation policies."

When the Republicans nominated Taft for a second term, Roosevelt left the GOP and lead the Progressives, guaranteeing the election of Woodrow Wilson.

6. Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison
Library of Congress

Republican Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States, serving from 1889 to 1893. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1892 to Democrat Grover Cleveland, who went on to serve two full terms, though not consecutively.

Harrison's administration suffered politically after a substantial Treasury surplus evaporated, and prosperity seemed about to disappear as well. The 1890 congressional elections swept in Democrats, and Republican leaders decided to abandon Harrison even though he had cooperated with Congress on party legislation, according to his White House biography. His party renominated him in 1892, but he was defeated by Cleveland.

7. Grover Cleveland*

Grover Cleveland
Library of Congress

*Democrat Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, having served from 1885 to 1889, and 1893 to 1897. So he doesn't technically qualify as a one term president. But because Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive four-year terms, he holds an important place in U.S. history, having lost his initial bid for re-election in 1888 to Republican Benjamin Harrison.

"In December 1887 he called on Congress to reduce high protective tariffs," his bio reads. "Told that he had given Republicans an effective issue for the campaign of 1888, he retorted, 'What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?'"

8. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren
Library of Congress

Democrat Martin Van Buren served as the eighth president of the United States, serving from 1837 to 1841. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1840 to Whig William Henry Harrison, who died shortly after taking office.

"Van Buren devoted his inaugural address to a discourse upon the American experiment as an example to the rest of the world. The country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 punctured the prosperity," his White House biography reads.

"Declaring that the panic was due to recklessness in business and overexpansion of credit, Van Buren devoted himself to maintaining the solvency of the national Government." Still, he lost re-election.

9. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams
Library of Congress

John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, serving from 1825 to 1829. He lost a campaign for re-election in 1828 to Andrew Jackson after his Jacksonian opponents accused him of corruption and public plunder - "an ordeal," according to his White House biography, "Adams did not easily bear."


10. John Adams

John Adams
Independence National Historical Park

Federalist John Adams, one of America's Founding Fathers, was the second president of the United States, having served from 1797 to 1801. "In the campaign of 1800 the Republicans were united and effective, the Federalists badly divided," Adams' White House biography reads. Adams lost his re-election campaign in 1800 in to Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson.

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