What to Expect in the Second Term: Presidential Travel and the Rise of Legacy Building, 1957-2009

But for a glossy, twenty-page pamphlet released two weeks before election day, President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign offered up little in the way of specific plans for a second term. Our study of presidential travel from President Eisenhower through George W. Bush provides some hint of what’s in store during the next four years.


President Eisenhower traveled only a fraction of what his successors did, especially compared to President George W. Bush in 2004

All four two-term presidents were exceedingly reluctant to leave the United States during their first year in office. Each of the two-term presidents was more willing to travel abroad in this fifth year of his political career.

President Clinton sought to improve the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians during his last years in office, though his hard-fought efforts did not result in the peaceful breakthrough for which many had hoped.

If President Obama follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will spend less time in swing states and more time abroad. To date, little attention has been dedicated to the study of the “public presidency” in the second-term, despite the fact that securing reelection represents an achievement capable of granting one entrance to our nation’s pantheon of “great” presidents.

In this paper, we provid an analysis of second-term presidential travel, which reveals a distinct uptick in international travel and the demise of the permanent campaign strategy. We suggest that such a change in priorities reflects an emphasis on legacy building.

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