It's rare for any party to keep the White House longer than 8 years. The Republicans did it in the 1988 election. Before that you have to go all the way back to FDR.
Reagan was still wildly popular in 1988 and that allowed Bush Sr. to steamroll Michael Dukakis in one of the most lopsided elections in history. But Obama is extremely unpopular everywhere except deep blue states like California and New York. Plus the Democrats only have an increasingly unpopular candidate in Mrs. Clinton and a 73 year-old Socialist running right now. Weird Uncle Joe Biden might jump in but he is 72 years old himself and he'll always be associated with the extremely unpopular Obama.
What Will Obama's Unpopularity Mean for 2016?
By Jeffrey H. Anderson - September 11, 2015
For the United States of America, the bad news is that after eight years of President Obama, an extraordinary amount of work will need to be done to restore American liberty, prosperity, and constitutionalism. The good news, however, is this: History suggests that parties that hold the White House for two consecutive terms only win a third straight term if the outgoing president is a lot more popular than Obama.
The historical evidence suggests that, the more popular a two-term president, the more likely it is that his party’s intended successor will win. Moreover, by the summertime of a president’s sixth year in office, Americans generally appear to have seen enough to have formed solid — perhaps entrenched — opinions about his performance. In fact, a president’s popularity in the summer of year 6 has proven to be a far better predictor of such elections than has his popularity as of the summer of year 5, the summer of year 7, or even the eve of Election Day in year 8.
It makes some sense why this would be. The summer of year 5, being just a few months removed from a president’s re-election, is likely too early for voters to have yet formed any real opinion about his second term. The summer of year 7 (and even more so the eve of Election Day in year 8 ) might be somewhat too late, as voters may long ago have made up their minds about a president’s performance and where the country needs to head next. Summer of year 6 may be the natural sweet spot — not too early, not too late. But whatever the explanation, the evidence suggests that by that point, the cake has pretty much been baked.
So how popular does a president need to be in the summer of year 6 to pave a path to victory for his party’s intended successor? Focusing only on non-incumbents running for their party’s third consecutive term, the evidence suggests that a president needs to have about a +15 net approval rating as of the summer of year 6 to give his party’s intended successor an even-money shot at winning. Moreover, every five-point increase or decrease from that mark moves the expected popular-vote margin about one point for or against his party’s intended successor. The basic formula, then, derived from historical experience, is to take a president’s net approval rating in Gallup’s last poll before July 4 of year 6, subtract 15 points from that figure, and divide by 5. That’s the predicted popular-vote advantage or disadvantage for his party’s intended successor. In other words, if a president’s net approval rating is +10 in the summer of year 6, then his party’s intended successor would be expected to lose the popular vote by about 1 point: (10 - 15) ÷ 5 = -1.
Let’s examine how this has played out over time. According to the University of California-Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project (the source for all of these numbers), President Harry Truman’s net approval rating in the last Gallup poll taken before July 4, 1950 (year 6 of Truman’s presidency, the first few months of which were served by FDR) was -10 points (36 percent disapproving, 46 percent approving). Based on the formula, Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ intended successor, should have lost by five points in the popular vote. He instead lost by 10.9 to Republican Dwight Eisenhower, thus underperforming by 5.9 points.
Eisenhower’s net approval rating as of July 4 of year 6 was +22 points, so based on the formula, Republican Richard Nixon should have won the popular vote by 1.4 points. He instead lost by 0.2 points to Democrat John F. Kennedy, underperforming by 1.6 points. After Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson’s net approval rating of +10 points (in year 6 of the eight-year presidency that he and Kennedy split) indicated that Democrat Hubert Humphrey should have lost the popular vote by one point. He lost by 0.7 points to Nixon, over-performing by 0.3 points.
The next non-incumbent running for his party’s third term (after Gerald Ford took over for Nixon and ran as an incumbent in 1976) was Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988. Based on Ronald Reagan’s year 6 net approval rating of +45 points, Bush should have won the popular vote by six points. He won by 7.7, exceeding expectations by 1.7 points. A decade later, Bill Clinton’s net approval rating of +27 points indicated that Democrat Al Gore should have won by 2.4 points. He won by 0.5, underperforming by 1.9 points — while losing the electoral vote to George W. Bush. And Bush’s net approval rating of -23 points implied that Republican John McCain should have lost by 7.6 points. He lost by 7.3, over-performing by 0.3 points.
Tallying the results, in five of these six races, the popular vote was within 1.9 points of expectations. (In the only outlying race, when Stevenson underperformed by 5.9 points, he was arguably facing extraordinary circumstances in two ways: Rather than running for the third consecutive Democratic term, he was running for the sixth; and he was running against the former commanding general of the U.S. Army in the European Theater, a candidate with unusual bipartisan appeal.) Five of the six races also went as expected in terms of which party won the popular vote, with the only exception being Nixon’s loss to Kennedy — and it is not at all clear that Nixon actually lost that popular vote. (Indeed, with Alabama counted correctly, Nixon probably won it, as Sean Trende and others have argued.) In other words, presidents’ year-6 approval ratings have done an uncanny job of foretelling future results.
So what about Obama? His net approval rating as of July 4 of year 6 was -9 points. The expectation, therefore, would be that the Democrats’ intended successor will lose the popular vote by 4.8 points: (-9 - 15) ÷ 5 = -4.8. That, of course, does not suggest that the Democratic nominee will likely lose by exactly that amount. It suggests that he or she will likely lose by something in the ballpark of that amount.
Remember that in just one of the six post-1950 races involving a non-incumbent running for a party’s third (or more) consecutive term has a candidate exceeded expectations in the popular-vote margin by 4.8 points — or, for that matter, by even half that much. And even that lone exception, Eisenhower in 1952, doesn’t necessarily bode well for the 2016 Democratic nominee. In addition to the reasons given above, Eisenhower was not a member of the party that controlled the presidency, and Hillary Clinton is no Dwight Eisenhower.
So, with an expected deficit of 4.8 points, the Democratic nominee would have to beat expectations by at least three or four points in the popular-vote margin to have any real shot. It is quite difficult for a candidate to win the presidency while losing the popular vote by more than one point. In fact, it hasn’t been done in 125 years. Even Obama, who did very well in swing states — winning nine of the 10 closest states in his race against Mitt Romney — would have lost the presidency had he lost the popular vote by 1.6 points (assuming that his margin had decreased by the same amount in every state).
Of course, the summer of year 6 isn’t the only potential time to measure Obama’s second-term popularity. One could also measure it in year 5 or year 7. The formula is the same, except that a president in year 5, when generally still riding a post-reelection wave, needs to have about a +30 net approval rating to give his party’s intended successor an even-money chance. So based on Obama’s +2 net approval rating as of July 4 of year 5, his intended Democratic successor would be expected to lose the popular vote by 5.6 points: (2 - 30) ÷ 5 = -5.6. Based on his -6 net approval rating as of July 4 of year 7, his intended Democratic successor would be expected to lose by 4.2 points. (Post-1950, George H.W. Bush is the only intended successor from a president’s own party to exceed year 5 or year 7 projections by more than four points; however, his actual performance was suggested -- within 1.7 points -- by Reagan’s year 6 popularity, whereas no such success for the next Democratic nominee is indicated by Obama’s year 6 popularity.)
Another time-honored method is to look at a president’s reelection margin. Usually, the popular-vote margin for the intended successor from a president’s own party is about nine points worse than that president’s reelection margin. Obama’s 3.9-point margin, therefore, would suggest that his party’s intended successor would lose by about 5.1 points. (No post-1950 nominee of the president’s own party has exceeded expectations in this vein by more than one point, although one — Humphrey in 1968, who didn’t have a wave of pro-Kennedy sentiment to ride, as Johnson did in 1964 — failed to meet expectations by a whopping 23 points.)