On 1 January 2016, incumbent president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced that he would not seek a sixth term in the office, wanting "to transfer the responsibilities of the president onto other shoulders". He later retracted and decided to run in April, citing political unrest after the fallout of the Panama Papers leak, which implicated Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and forced him to resign after large anti-government protests. In the following ten days five other candidates suspended their campaigns, one of them after endorsing Ólafur Ragnar. Former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson declared his candidacy on 8 May, and Ólafur Ragnar withdrew from the race the following day, stating that there was now a supply of qualified candidates. A poll showing Ólafur Ragnar with only 25% support had been published the same day.
Davíð Oddsson attacked Guðni Th. Jóhannesson in two TV-debates for allegedly having an unpatriotic view of the Cod Wars. Guðni, a historian of the Cod Wars, dismissed these charges and explained that his take on the Cod Wars was nuanced and supported by research. Davíð has also said that Guðni supported Icelandic responsibility for Icesave and is in favor of EU membership. Guðni responded, saying that his words were taken out context in both instances, and that he as President would make sure that the public would have a say in a referendum both on the resumption of EU accession negotiations and approval of any accession treaty. Furthermore, Davíð has alleged that Guðni will "undermine the Constitution" by supporting constitutional change. Halla is personally against EU membership and Andri Snær is undecided.
Despite an initial anti-establishment feeling, interest in the campaign waned in the last days due to the performance of the Iceland national football team in the Euro 2016. Like his predecessor, Guðni is opposed to membership of the European Union. In the final debate the day before the vote, he said the result of the Brexit vote changes "much for the better for us Icelanders", implying that the European Economic Area agreement that non-EU members Norway and Iceland have with the EU could play a more important role with the United Kingdom on board. His campaign promises included vowing to "modernise political life" and give voters a chance of direct democracy initiatives.
Candidates had to formally declare their intention to run on or before 20 May (five weeks prior to the election) and "be proposed by not less than 1500 voters". The number of candidates in previous elections had been six at most, but the announced departure of the incumbent president prompted an unprecedented number of people to consider running. A total of 21 people publicly declared their intention to run, and around ten more were reported to be seriously considering it. Finally, nine candidates fulfilled the requirements for ballot access.
Magnus Ingi Magnússon – restaurateur and caterer. Declared in April, withdrew on 17 May due to lack of signatures, saying he considered running for the Althingi instead.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson – Incumbent President. In January, he declared that he would not seek reelection, but decided to enter the race on 18 April after political unrest in connection with the Panama Papers leak. He subsequently withdrew on 9 May stating as his reason that other qualified candidates had now entered the race.
Vigfús Bjarni Albertsson – hospital chaplain. Announced his candidacy in March but withdrew on 18 April.
Þorgrímur Þráinsson – author, motivational speaker, and former football player; announced he intended to run in November 2015, which he confirmed on 1 January. In April however, he said he would not go forth and implied he had not made a declaration.
Snorri Ásmundsson – a conceptual artist, released a statement in which he claimed he intended to run for president of both Iceland and Mexico, joining the presidential offices of the two countries.
Guðni won the election with 39.1% of the votes. Halla received 27.9%, Andri Snær 14.3%, Davíð 13.7% and Sturla 3.5%. The turnout was 75.7%.
After voting on his birthday, Guðni said that he was satisfied he had "managed to present to the people my vision of the presidency." He said that should he win, he would first "go to France on Monday and see Iceland play England."