Presidential Travel: The Second Term Spike

In examining data from National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) study of Presidential travel, “Up in the Air”, there are a number of layers to peel back to reveal the complete picture. The latest, perhaps most significant, aspect of the study is analyzing the habits of second term Presidents – the major finding being they drastically increase their time overseas.

The three modern presidents increased the amount they travelled by over 50 percent. This metric is based on the average increase in foreign travel of the other three “modern” two-term Presidents between their two terms. It does not include Dwight Eisenhower who travelled about 300 percent more in his second term, despite spending less days abroad per trip than any other President NTUF analyzed! The difference in era was too significant to include him.

This projection puts President Obama on pace to very narrowly be the most internationally travelled President with potentially 235 days abroad; compared to Bill Clinton’s 233, George W. Bush’s 215, and Ronald Reagan’s 118.

What trips the President actually ends up going on is impossible to predict beyond this year. If he follows Eisenhower, or Clinton’s lead and drastically increases his travel he would become far and away the most internationally traveled President – if he follows a more conservative direction it’s quite possible he could fall well shy of NTUF’s projection, possibly leaving him behind the most travelled First Lady, Laura Bush (212 days abroad).

Another intriguing finding: if former President George H.W. Bush had received a second-term, he would have been projected to spend 256 days travelling overseas; and he would have likely become the most travelled President, and stayed that way.

President Obama’s start to the year does not have him on pace with his projection yet. With mid-term elections coming up, the President may not focus internationally quite as much as expected. If the President simply repeated his travel from this year, he’d end up with around 104 days abroad in his second term. That would drop him below 200 days abroad, well below George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Laura Bush.

Taxpayers will have to keep a sharp eye on the President’s travel habits, particularly towards the end of his term, to see where he ends up in the record books. Regardless of exactly where that is, the trend in recent years is clear, more international Presidential travel at a significant cost.