The Contemporary Presidency: The Sixth Year Curse


Colleen J. Shogan is assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University. She is an APSA Congressional Fellow in 2005-2006 and her book on presidential moral rhetoric is forthcoming from Texas A&M University Press in 2006.


There is a prevailing pattern of ill-fated events that routinely unfold during a president's sixth consecutive year in the White House. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips called the tendency of the president's party to lose seats in a midterm election the “sixth year itch.” The term is actually an understatement. Due to the fact that sixth years are typically filled with scandals, economic depressions, and weakened political coalitions, it is more accurate to refer to this phenomenon as a full-fledged “curse.” A historical analysis of the past seven reelected presidents reveals the problems faced in sixth years of office. Although every president since Ulysses S. Grant has suffered from some version of the “sixth year curse,” its negative effects vary in intensity. The article concludes with an evaluation of George W. Bush's leadership and cautiously predicts how he will attempt to handle the difficulties and challenges of his administration's sixth year.