ratings of past presidents. Rating presidents is a time honored historical game. There are some generally accepted conclusions – Lincoln was the best,
Nixon the worst. There are always fun re-interpretations. Ulysses S Grant has
his fans, as does McKinley and Martin Van Buren. Everyone loves Teddy Roosevelt
(except H.L. Mencken of course.)
those who have held our highest office. As Damon Runyon wrote of FDR, “He only did
the best he could, no man could have done more.”
dozen holders of the office.
|Table from Sabato’s Silver Ball at UVA Center for Politics|
My first thought on reviewing this list is a frightening one
– and true. The list is a ranking based on looks. That is why JFK always comes
out on top, followed by movie star Reagan, cool hand Barack, and Bill Clinton
who was sort of a deep-fried JFK. At the bottom we have our baldest and most
bloated president in recent history, followed by LBJ with his outsized facial features,
and of course Nixon.
Republicans also love him, rating him ahead of Eisenhower (to say nothing of
Ford and Nixon.) He was an immensely attractive man, exemplar of a new generation,
who – besides his looks – was witty and appeared to dispatch his office with
aplomb. He was blessed with a beautiful and graceful wife and he died
tragically and young.
the turmoil of the 1960s, the terrible war in Vietnam, and Watergate. In a
college science fiction writing class about alternative histories, two stories
in a class of a dozen, featured LBJ and the war in Vietnam (one by me.) We had
been children when that war ended, but it cast a long shadow.
Kennedyesque Camelot impossible. JFK was a deeply flawed man. Besides the
compulsive womanizing, he had severe health problems that left him in great
pain and were controlled with significant pharmaceuticals. The press knew, but allowed
the president’s private life to remain private. After Nixon, that was no longer
possible. The presidency was brought out of the shadows.
in our imaginary Mount Rushmore, while other figures – truly giant – have begun
by party. The average partisan difference is 2.07. The largest splits are over
Obama and Trump, both over 5. Somehow this is not a surprise. The Democrats’ rating of Obama is the highest rating of any president by any partisan group
and their rating of Trump is the lowest. The Republican rating of Trump is the
third highest of any president by partisan group (after Obama by Democrats and
Reagan by Republicans). The Republican rating of Obama is the third lowest
rating of any president by a partisan group (beating out only Nixon and Trump
|I made this Table, using the UVA/Ipsos poll.|
Clinton at 2.88. The smallest partisan split is over LBJ, only .31 (more on him
vice-versa. The Democrats rate LBJ as the worst president from their party, and
rate four Republicans ahead of him. Besides Reagan, the Bushes and Eisenhower
are all rated just a bit below average.
rate lowest). Interestingly, Republican respondents go somewhat easy on LBJ,
rating him middle of the pack as far as Democrats go – only a little worse than
Democrats rate him. LBJ is interesting because (like Ford) Independents rate
both of them significantly lower than the opposing party. This highlights the
observation above, that for many people Johnson is where things started to go
wrong for the United States.
“Thou shalt not speak ill of they fellow Republican.” Perhaps a bit of that
party discipline shows here the lockstep Republican preference for Republicans.
generation. On the gender side, there were several cases of men distinctly
rating certain presidents higher than women did. Eisenhower has the strongest
split, possibly men think – well he was a general so he must be ok. The male
preference for Trump is hardly unknown, but there are comparable male
preferences for LBJ and Nixon. Lest one think it is because women blanched at
their homeliness, men also preferred JFK and Reagan. I have no idea why men
rated these presidents higher than women.
|Table from Sabato’s Silver Ball at the UVA Center for Politics|
Obama. Perhaps his model, modern marriage in which his wife was clearly
outspoken and engaged (after the demure Laura Bush) was appealing.
is particularly interesting and may be the most significant of the survey. The
survey notes that actually remembering presidents may play a significant role
in rating them. The 55+ bracket overall rates presidents at 5.67, their lowest
rating is Nixon at 4.36 (not bad considering they remember Watergate!) Except
for Obama and Clinton, the 55+ cohort rates presidents from both parties higher
than the other cohorts. And their ratings of Obama and Clinton, while the
lowest, are not that low at about 5.5.
outside their living memory except for JFK (that magic really has lived.) They
are huge outliers on Reagan, seeing him as a bit below average.
with jobs and advanced degrees were born after
Reagan left office – time is inexorable!
(35-54, caught in the middle) converges with the 18-34 cohort. On more recent
presidents they are closer to the elders. In overall ratings, my generation’s
average ratings are 5.07 while the 18-34s is 4.64. The only recent presidents
they rate as above average are Clinton and Obama (who comes in at a whopping
6.96 – they really liked him.)
who presidents were. But it is also possible, that having entered the workforce
in the face of a huge recession and watching their nation struggle with a pair
of endless wars, they maybe younger generations are more skeptical of authority
and their national leadership. But their tremendous affection for Obama and
their continuing to carry the Kennedy flame suggests that they are not so cynical
that they cannot be inspired.