October 27, 2020

Breaking the Fifth-year Curse: Transition Planning for Presidents Seeking Reelection Has Been Under-explored and Undervalued

By Alex Tippett and Paul Hitlin

After winning reelection, fifth-year presidents should be well positioned to pursue their policy agenda. Modern two-term presidents, however, have tended to struggle in their fifth year. This is largely because recent administrations viewed the transition from a first to a second term as a continuation rather than a time of change and renewal.

A recent report produced by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, with assistance from the Center for Presidential Transition, examines this phenomenon in detail. By examining the personnel, policy priorities and processes of past administrations, the article offers a roadmap for effective presidential fifth years. Presidents winning reelection have the opportunity to avoid pitfalls that have hurt previous administrations and begin their second terms in a stronger position.