Historical rankings of United States Presidents

Historical rankings of United States Presidents

In political science, historical rankings of United States Presidents are surveys conducted in order to construct rankings of the success of individuals who have served as President of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political scientists or popular opinion. The rankings focus on the presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures and faults (such as corruption).

Three Presidents—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Rooseveltndash are consistently ranked at the top of the lists. Usually ranked just below those three are Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. The remaining top 10 ranks are often rounded out by Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and John F. Kennedy. Ranking at the bottom of most polls are Warren G. Harding, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and George W. Bush. Two presidents, William Henry Harrison and James A. Garfield, died after less than six months in office, and are sometimes not ranked.

Some presidents present special problems because their foreign policy success or failure stands in contradiction to their domestic policy failure or success. Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham noted the "dichotomous or schizoid profiles." Historian Alan Brinkley said, "There are presidents who could be considered both failures and great or near great (for example, Nixon)". James MacGregor Burns observed of Nixon, "How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?" [Skidmore 2001]

Notable scholar surveys

The 1948 poll was conducted by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. of Harvard University. [ [http://www.vicepresidents.com/new_page_14.htm] ] The 1962 survey was also conducted by Schlesinger, who surveyed 75 historians; the results of this survey are given in the book "The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents" by William A. Degregorio. Schlesinger's son Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. conducted another poll in 1996, not currently on the chart below.

"The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents" also gives the results of the 1982 survey, a poll of 49 historians conducted by the "Chicago Tribune". A notable difference from the 1962 Schlesinger poll was the ranking of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was ranked #22 in 1962, but was ranked #9 in the 1982 survey.The Siena Research Institute of Siena College conducted surveys in 1982, 1990, 1994, and 2002. The 1994 survey placed only two Presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, above 80 points, and placed two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding, below 50 points. [ [http://www.siena.edu/sri/results/95%20Presidency%20Survey.htm] ] [ [http://www.siena.edu/sri/results/2002/02AugPresidentsSurvey.htm] ]

The 1996 column shows the results from a poll conducted from 1989 to 1996 by William J. Ridings, Jr. and Stuart B. McIver, and published in the book "Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent". More than 719 people took part in the poll, primarily academic historians and political scientists, although some politicians and celebrities also took part. Participants from every state were included, and emphasis was placed upon getting input from female historians and "specialists in African-American studies", as well as a few non-American historians. Poll respondents rated the Presidents in five categories (leadership qualities, accomplishments & crisis management, political skill, appointments, character & integrity), and the results were tabulated to create the overall ranking.

The C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership was a 1999 survey of academic historians (with self-selected responders). It found that historians consider Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt the three best presidents by a wide margin and William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan the worst. [ [http://www.americanpresidents.org/survey/historians/performance.asp American Presidents: Life Portraits ] ]

A 2000 survey by "The Wall Street Journal" consisted of an "ideologically balanced group of 132 prominent professors of history, law, and political science". This poll sought to include an equal number of liberals and conservatives in the survey, as the editors argued that previous polls were dominated by either one group or the other, but never balanced. According to the editors, this poll included responses from more women, minorities, and young professors than the 1996 Schlesinger poll. The editors noted that the results of their poll were "remarkably similar" to the 1996 Schlesinger poll, with the main difference in the 2000 poll being the lower rankings for the 1960s presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, and higher ranking of President Ronald Reagan at #8. Franklin Roosevelt still ranked in the top three.

Another presidential poll was conducted by "The Wall Street Journal" in 2005, with James Lindgren of Northwestern University Law School for the Federalist Society. [ [http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007243 The Wall Street Journal Online - Extra ] ] As in the 2000 survey, the editors sought to balance the opinions of liberals and conservatives, adjusting the results "to give Democratic- and Republican-leaning scholars equal weight." Franklin D. Roosevelt still ranked in the top-three, but editor James Taranto noted that Democratic-leaning scholars rated George W. Bush the sixth-worst president of all time, while Republican scholars rated him the sixth-best, giving him a split-decision rating of "average".

A 2006 Siena College poll of 744 professors reported the following results: [http://www.siena.edu/uploadedFiles/Home/Parents_and_Community/06_may_expert_bush_release.pdf Experts: Bush Presidency Is A Failure; Little Chance To Improve Ranking] . Siena Research Institute. May 1, 2006]
*"George W. Bush has just finished five years as President. If today were the last day of his presidency, how would you rank him? The responses were: Great: 2%; Near Great: 5%; Average: 11%; Below Average: 24%; Failure: 58%."
*"In your judgment, do you think he has a realistic chance of improving his rating?” Two-thirds (67%) responded no; less than a quarter (23%) responded yes; and 10% chose no opinion or not applicable."Thomas Kelly, professor emeritus of American studies at Siena College, said: "President Bush would seem to have small hope for high marks from the current generation of practicing historians and political scientists. In this case, current public opinion polls actually seem to cut the President more slack than the experts do." Dr. Douglas Lonnstrom, Siena Collegeprofessor of statistics and director of the Siena Research Institute, stated: "In our 2002 presidential rating, with a group of experts comparable to this current poll, President Bush ranked 23rd of 42 presidents. That was shortly after 9/11. Clearly, the professors do not think things have gone well for him in the past few years. These are the experts that teach college students today and will write the history of this era tomorrow."

A 2008 History News Network "unscientific and informal" poll among professional historians found that 98 percent believed that the George W. Bush presidency was a failure, and that 61 percent believed it to be the worst in history.McElvaine, Robert S. "HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst". 1 April 2008. [http://hnn.us/articles/48916.html Available online.] ]

cholar survey results


Further reading

*cite book |title=Presidential Greatness: The Image and the Man from George Washington to the Present |last=Bailey |first=Thomas A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1966 |publisher=Appleton-Century |location=New York |isbn= |pages= → A non quantitative appraisal by leading historian.
*cite book |last=Bose |first=Meena |coauthors=Landis Mark |title=The Uses and Abuses of Presidential Ratings |year=2003 |publisher=Nova Science Publishers |location=New York |isbn=1590337948 → A collection of essays by presidential scholars.
*cite book |title=The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents |edition=4. ed., rev., expanded, and up-dated |last=DeGregorio |first=William A. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1993 |publisher=Barricade Books |location=New York |isbn=0942637925 |pages= → Contains the results of the 1962 and 1982 surveys.
*cite book |title=The American Presidents Ranked by Performance |last=Faber |first=Charles |authorlink= |coauthors=Faber, Richard |year=2000 |publisher=McFarland & Co. |location=Jefferson, NC |isbn=0786407654 |pages=
*cite journal |last=Felzenberg |first=Alvin S. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |month= |title=There You Go Again: Liberal Historians and the "New York Times" Deny Ronald Reagan His Due |journal=Policy Review |volume=82 |issue= |pages=51–54 | issn = 0146-5945 |url= |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |title=The American Mayor: The Best & the Worst Big-City Leaders |last=Holli |first=Melvin G. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1999 |publisher=Pennsylvania State Univ. Press |location=University Park, PA |isbn=0271018763 |pages=
*cite book |title=Star-Spangled Men America's Ten Worst Presidents |last=Miller |first=Nathan |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1998 |publisher=Scribner |location=New York |isbn=0684836106 |pages=
*cite book |title=Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents, from Washington Through Ronald Reagan |last=Murray |first=Robert K. |authorlink= |coauthors=Blessing, Tim H. |year=1994 |edition=2., updated ed. |publisher=Pennsylvania State Univ. Press |location=University Park, PA |isbn=0271010894 |pages=
*cite journal |last=Pfiffner |first=James P. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2003 |month= |title=Ranking the Presidents: Continuity and Volatility |journal=White House Studies |volume=3 |issue= |pages=23 | issn = 1535-4768 |url=http://mason.gmu.edu/~pubp502/Pres.rating.mss.pdf |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |title=Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent |last=Ridings |first=William J., Jr. |authorlink= |coauthors=McIver, Stuart B. |year=1997 |publisher=Carol Publishing |location=Secaucus, NJ |isbn=0806517999 |pages=
*cite journal |last=Schlesinger |first=Arthur M., Jr. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |month= |title=Ranking the Presidents: From Washington to Clinton |journal=Political Science Quarterly |volume=112 |issue= |pages=179–190 |doi=10.2307/2657937 |url= |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |title=Presidential Performance: A Comprehensive Review |last=Skidmore |first=Max J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2004 |publisher=McFarland & Co. |location=Jefferson, NC |isbn=0786418206 |pages=
*cite journal |last=Skidmore |first=Max J. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2001 |month= |title=Ranking and Evaluating Presidents: The Case of Theodore Roosevelt |journal=White House Studies |volume=1 |issue=4 |pages=495–505 | issn = 1535-4768 |url= |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |title=Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and Worst in the White House |last=Taranto |first=James |authorlink= |coauthors=Leo, Leonard |year=2004 |publisher=Wall Street Journal Books |location=New York |isbn=0743254333 |pages= → For Federalist Society surveys.
*cite book |title=Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom |chapter=Rating Presidential Performance |last=Vedder |first=Richard |authorlink= |coauthors=Gallaway, Lowell |editor=Denson, John V. (ed.) |year=2001 |publisher=Mises Institute |location=Auburn, AL |isbn=0945466293 |pages=

External links

* [http://writ.news.findlaw.com/scripts/printer_friendly.pl?page=/dean/20010511.html "Ranking Presidents: Utter Nonsense Or Useful Analysis?] , 2001 column by John Dean
* [http://listverse.com/politics/top-10-worst-us-presidents/ Top 10 Worst US Presidents - The List Universe]

ee also

*Historical rankings of British Prime Ministers

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