I arrived at the perception of the subtle question as I attempted to defend this sentence — over at the new Bloggingheads episode — "On The Glenn Show, Glenn and Ann check in on Obama a year into his second term." It's only 8 months since the second inauguration, 2/3 of a year. Someone pointed out that it's just inaccurate to say "a year into his second term," but — even though it's not my assertion — I felt called to defend it. My first — and boring — effort at defense was to say: it was rounding.
My second effort was: "Some people may feel that after the election, the new term (in spirit) begins."
My interlocutor said:
But even under that view (which would raise awkward questions about when his administration is going to end, when the Bush administration ended, and whether Obama's two terms are of equal length), it still isn't one year into his second term. The election was in November, not September.I could combine my 2 arguments and say the rounding up is less egregious when you take 8 and a half months up to a year, but at that point I lost interest in the question whether the above-quoted statement is defensible because I saw the subtlety of the question that became the post title.
Here's my thinking. Each presidential term begins on the 20th of January following an election that occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That's about an 11-week gap. Let's commit to the idea that first term of a 2-term presidency does not begin until he becomes President, because despite all the attention he gets and the lameness of the actual President, he doesn't have presidential power. But after the election to a second term, he is already President and he's gotten the affirmation that he will continue in the presidency for a second term. Reelection suddenly vaults him to the stature of a 2-term President, and he's got 4 years and 11 weeks in a forthcoming unbroken unit of power.
In this view — which is practical and not formal — the second term is 22 weeks longer than the first term. Notice that this analysis doesn't require you to say that the previous presidency ended on Election Day or that the second term will end on Election Day. The added length of the second term comes from the early end to the first term.