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Good Question: How Often Do Presidents Travel?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)– Whenever a United States president leaves the White House and heads for the “real” America, the opposition party complains about taxpayers bankrolling a political trip. But compared to previous presidents, how often is President Barack Obama on the road?

CBS Radio News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller obsessively tracks Presidential travel, and he shared his data with us.

Counting his recent trip to Cannon Falls, Minn., Obama has taken 143 trips out of the Washington, D.C., area since the start of his presidency (including vacation, but not counting trips to Camp David). Contrast that to former President George W. Bush at this identical point in his presidency: Bush had taken 228 trips (that count does include Bush’s trips to his Texas ranch).

“Domestic travel is very calculated,” said Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political science professor.

According to Pearson, domestic travel is for two reasons: political and representational.

“There is an electoral purpose. From the moment elected, he or she is constantly thinking about reelection,” she said.

But there’s also a real reason the President needs to get out of the White House.

“The president actually wants to go out and hear from the American people,” she said.

That’s been happening as long as the presidency has been around, but “within the last two decades it’s really picked up,” said Pearson.

Knoller’s numbers were used in a report analyzing first-term travel by U.S. Presidents.

Ronald Reagan took 175 domestic trips in his entire first term. George H.W. Bush took 276. Bill Clinton traveled 315 times in the U.S. his first term, and George W. Bush traveled 391 times.

“Today people have so many news options and so many entertainment options, the president has to make a better effort to go across the country to reach people instead of simply being in the White House,” said Pearson.

And of the Presidents who were elected to two terms, the domestic travel isn’t even close. Domestic travel typically goes in the tank in the second term.

“Not surprising. They’re not thinking about reelection,” she said.

Reagan took 25 percent fewer trips in his second term. George W. Bush traveled 45 percent less.

Travel abroad generally goes up in the second term, but don’t be totally cynical about presidential travel.

“I think there’s value in getting out of Washington, out of the beltway, and actually talking with Americans,” said Pearson.

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