All the U.S. Presidents Who Won Re-Elections During a Recession

It's a short list.

Since 1900, only one president has won re-election with a recession occurring sometime in the last two years of their first term: William McKinley.

Since then, the four presidents who ran for a second term during such an economic downturn—William Taft in 1912, Herber Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992—were unsuccessful.

The only person to defy the trend was Democrat Harry Truman in 1948. But the recession that year only started in November, the same month that Americans went to the polls to vote.

Other caveats to the rule include Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. Both were vice presidents who ascended to commander-in-chief after the deaths of the president. They both went on to win the next election on their own despite economic downturns.

But that's not the norm. Take Carter for example. At the beginning of 1980, he had a 54 percent approval rating. Then a recession began and his approval dropped to below 40 percent in the span of five months. He was soundly defeated by Ronald Regan in the general election after winning just six states.

So what does that mean for President Donald Trump?

"History applies that President Trump might also be faced with a similar re-election challenge," said Sam Stovall, the chief investment strategist at CFRA. CFRA is one of the world's largest independent investment research firms.

wall street stock crash coronavirus
A screen shows the graph of the Dow industrial average after closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 18, 2020, at Wall Street in New York City. Wall Street stocks plunged again March 18, 2020, as the economic toll from the coronavirus mounts and economists warn of a deep recession. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Political scientist Alan Abramowitz estimated in a new forecast that Trump could be headed for a major defeat on Election Day due to the sudden economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Bank of America warned on Thursday that the next three months will be "brutal" as the economy falls into a recession. Goldman Sachs predicts that over 2 million people have already filed for their first week of unemployment benefits. In the hospitality industry, hundreds of thousands of workers have already been laid off or furloughed and millions more could be impacted as the global pandemic continues.

"If President Trump's net approval rating remains where it is now or declines further, and if the recession is severe, with real GDP shrinking by three points or more in the second quarter, the result could well be a defeat of landslide proportions," Abramowitz wrote in a report published by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

The economy has been one of the biggest pillars of Trump's presidency. During his State of the Union address in February, he claimed the economy was "roaring" and "the best it has ever been." He added that the country was moving forward at an "unimaginable" pace.

But the COVID-19 outbreak, which has been declared a global pandemic, has sent the stock market into freefall and has closed businesses around the country.

Trump recently acknowledged that the U.S. "may be" headed into a recession but he predicted the nation would bounce back quickly once the virus is gone.

"We're not thinking in terms of recession. We're thinking in terms of the virus," Trump told reporters at the White House. "Once we stop, I think there's a tremendous pent-up demand both in terms of the stock market, in terms of the economy."