Presidential Elections | 2008
Under Construction

In a 2000 American Perspective Article, Where Have You Gone, Franklin Roosevelt?, Michael Nelson says:
In 1948 Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. called on 55 of his fellow historians to grade each president (excluding the incumbent, Harry S. Truman) as either "great," "near great," "average," "below average," or a "failure." When Schlesinger averaged each president's grades, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Andrew Jackson scored as great presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding were rated as failures, and the rest fell in between.

In his second survey in 1962, Truman ended up in ninth place as a near-great president in the company of John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt. Dwight D. Eisenhower ranked 22nd. Republicans howled that Schlesinger had packed the jury with Democrats.

His son, commissioned a study in 1996. Eisenhower's stock has risen since the 1960s (he now regularly shows up among the top 10) but less because of any new appreciation of what long was thought to be his passive style of leadership than because of recent archival research that shows him to have been a deceptively strong "hidden-hand" leader.

Rankings are based on averages of 6 quantitative rankings by groups of scholars from 1996 to 2005 as listed at Historical rankings at Wikipedia, with the scores summarized in a 10 pt. rating (10 - Great, 1-Failure). *

No. Name Pty State Dates Rat-
1 Washington, George F VA 1789-97 10 General
2 Adams, John F MA 1797-1801 7 VP - Founding Father from MA
3 Jefferson, Thomas D-R VA 1801-09 9 Founding Father from VA
4 Madison, James D-R VA 1809-17 7 Founding Father - Representative from VA -
"Father of the Constitution"
5 Monroe, James D-R VA 1817-25 7 VA Senator
6 Adams, John Quincy R/W MA 1825-29 6 MA Monroe's Secy of State
7 Jackson, Andrew D TN 1829-37 8 TN War of 1812 General
8 Van Buren, Martin D NY 1837-41 4 In Jackson's cabinet
9 Harrison, William Henry W IN 1841- 2 Governor of IN
10 Tyler, John W VA 1841-45 2 VP
11 Polk, James D TN 1845-49 8 Congressman from TN
12 Taylor, Zachary W MS 1849-50 3 Mexican War General
13 Fillmore, Millard W NY 1850-53 2 VP - Succeeded
14 Pierce, Franklin D NH 1853-57 1 NH Senator
15 Buchanan, James D PA 1857-61 1 PA Senator and Polk's Secretary of State
16 Lincoln, Abraham R IL 1861-65 10 IL Congressman
17 Johnson, Andrew D IN 1865-69 1 TN Senator, VP succeeded
18 Grant, Ulysses S. R OH 1869-77 2 Civil War Union General
19 Hayes, Rutherford B. R OH 1877-81 4  
20 Garfield, James R OH 1881-81 3 Ohio Senator
21 Arthur, Chester R NY 1881-85 4 VP - Succeeded
Cleveland, Grover D NY 1885-89, 1893-97 6 NY Governor
23 Harrison, Benjamin R IN 1889-93 3 Senator from Indiana
25 McKinley, William R OH 1897-1901 6 Congressman, OH Governor
26 Roosevelt, Theodore R NY 1901-09 9 NY Governor - VP Succeeded
27 Taft, William H. R OH 1909-13 5 Roosevelt's Secretary of War
28 Wilson, Woodrow D NJ 1913-21 8 NJ Governor
29 Harding, Warren R OH 1921-23 1 Governor of Ohio
30 Coolidge, Calvin R MA 1923-29 4 MA Governor
31 Hoover, Herbert R IA 1929-33 3 Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce
32 Roosevelt, Franklin D. D NY 1933-45 10 Governor of NY
33 Truman, Harry S D MO 1945-53 8 Senator from MO, VP Succeeded
34 Eisenhower, Dwight R TX/
1953-61 8 General - President of Columbia U.
35 Kennedy, John F. D MA 1961-63 7 MA Senator
36 Johnson, Lyndon D TX 1963-69 7 TX Senator, VP Succeeded
37 Nixon, Richard R CA 1969-74 4 CA Senator, VP
38 Ford, Gerald R MI 1974-77 4 MI Congressman, VP Succeeded
39 Carter, Jimmy D GA 1977-81 4 GA Governor
40 Reagan, Ronald R CA 1981-89 7 CA Governor
41 Bush, George H.W. R TX 1989-93 5 VP
42 Clinton, William J. D AR 1993-2001 5 AR Governor
43 Bush, George W. † R TX 2001-08 2 TX Governor
43 Obama, Barack D IL 2009- 7‡ IL Senator
Average: Republicans - 4.7, Democrats - 5.3

* To compute the 10 pt. rating I basically did a linear distribution of averages of the 6 most recent rankings, placing breaking points (e.g. between 9 and 10) where there were gaps in the averages. It might have been better to use a bell curve, since you would expect more average (5 & 6) presidents than extremely good or bad ones (10's or 1's). Actually the natural breaks came up with only three 10's and three 9's, where a true linear distribution would have had 4 of each.

George W. Bush's would have been a 5, based on a 2002 poll from Siena Research Institute (SRI) and a Federalist Society poll in 2005 published in the Wall Street Journal, since then his public approval rating (see below) has dropped because of the Iraq war and economic crisis.
By the end of 2008 his approval rating was down to 20-27%
According to CNN he is "the most unpopular president in modern American history."
The TimesOnline ranked him 37 out of 42 in October 2008.

‡ Current ratings: 2010 | Gallup 2011 | Wikipedia 2012

Pty - Party: F- Federalist, D-R - Democratic-Republican, R-W National Republican/Whig, W - Whig R - Republican, D - Democrat

The top ten based on individual ranks from 1-43 are:
Rank President Range
1 Abraham Lincoln 1-  3
2 Franklin D. Roosevelt 1-  3
3 George Washington 1-  4
4 Theodore Roosevelt 3-  5
5 Thomas Jefferson 2-  7
6 Harry S. Truman 5-  8
7 Woodrow Wilson 6-11
8 Andrew Jackson 6-13
9 Dwight D. Eisenhower 8-12
10 James K. Polk 9-14
  John Adams 9-16
  John Kennedy 8-18
The Times Online includes Ronald Regan (8) instead of Andrew Jackson.

Princeton University political scientist, Fred I. Greenstein, focuses his 2000' book The Presidential Difference on "emotional intelligence"--a president's ability to "manage his emotions and turn them to constructive purposes." Greenstein also looks at five other, less important, leadership traits.
He judges three of FDR's five Democratic successors to be deficient in emotional intelligence (Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton), but faults only one of the five modern Republicans (Richard Nixon).
Tops with a positive score in all five leadership traits was Nixon. Eisenhower, Ford, Regan and Kennedy also had an overall positive score in that order. Truman, Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Carter had a negative average.

Nelson says "Although Greenstein claims to have "avoided presidential rankings,". Surely the historians were right to place Kennedy, Johnson, and Truman above Nixon and Ford, in contrast to Greenstein's arrangement. But they were wrong to rank Reagan with the average presidents (as they did in Schlesinger, Jr.'s 1996 survey), just as Greenstein is right to rate him more highly."

The greatness of the presidents in Landy and Milkis's ("Presidential Greatness") hall of fame--Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR--has less to do with power than with purpose. Great presidents are "conservative revolutionaries" who in uncertain times "teach the nation about the need for great change but also about how to reconcile change with American constitutional traditions and purposes.

Midterm Approval Ratings
Midterm Approval Ratings
2012 at

Presidental Job Approval rating eisenhower nixon, regan clinton bush

Job Approval
See: George W. Bush Approval Ratings at Gallup
and a summary of other rankings at the Roper Center

Job Approval   Job Approval Presidental Job Approval rating eisenhower nixon, regan clinton bush

Where Have You Gone, Franklin Roosevelt? by Michael Nelson for the American Perspective Nov., 2000
Historical rankings of United States Presidents at Wikipedia
Sienna polls 1982-2010
Historical rankings of United States Presidents at
Gallup Public Poll
What Makes a President Great?, 2005 poll for the Federalist Society by James Lindgren, published in the Wall Street Journal


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last updated 22 Aug 2012