Friday, October 2, 2009

The Presidential Rankings Survey

In 2000, and again in 2009, C-SPAN put out a survey to 65 historians and other scholars ranking the Presidents of the United States from greatest to least. Some of the top historians of the day are included in the group including H.W. Brands, Richard Norton Smith, and James McPherson. The survey was broke down into ten leadership characteristics that define a President. The historians gave a score to each President in each specific category, such as Crisis Leadership, and an average of the scores for each President in that category was given. The best possible overall score a President could receive is 100 with the worst being zero, for instance James K. Polk was given a total score of 70.2 for Crisis Leadership.

In the 2009 survey the top ten Presidents were ranked in this order:
  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Harry S. Truman
  6. John F. Kennedy
  7. Thomas Jefferson
  8. Dwight D Eisenhower
  9. Woodrow Wilson
  10. Ronald Reagan

As Presidents go it is hard to argue the validity of these ten Presidents and how great they were in this role. I found some of the trends between the 2000 survey and the 2009 survey interesting. Nearly all the Presidents since Eisenhower have seen an increase in their overall rankings. Eisenhower, Reagan, Ford, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush all saw small increases. Clinton seeing the most dramatic increase in his ranking going from 21st to 15th. This is not too surprising to see because as time progresses history reflects on past events and individuals more objectively. For instance one could simply look at similar polls of Presidential rankings throughout the last 50 years and would see Presidents making dramatic moves up or down the list. For instance, Eisenhower moved up the rankings from 22nd in 1962 to 8th in 2009. In addition Herbert Hoover dropped during that same time period from 19th to 34th.

Historians for the most part tend to look at all events in the past through their own personal worldview. If there is a historical event or period of time that they personally experienced then their personal views on that moment tend to cloud their objective historical analysis. Which is why that history is difficult to analyze and evaluate for at least a single generation. Currently for instance George W. Bush is ranked 36th in the 2009 survey. I firmly believe that you will see him move up in the rankings, probably not dramatically, but to some degree simply because a look at his presidency more objectively will take place over time. The best example I have for this is Richard M. Nixon. In two different 1982 surveys Nixon was ranked 34th. However in a more recent Presidential survey his ranking has increased to 27th. Nixon was not a well liked individual and President upon his resignation and for a few decades afterwards. The focal point of his administration was always upon Watergate. However after his death in 1994, Nixon's administration was looked at more objectively and his Presidential accomplishments began to show through. Without question Nixon will always be ranked near the bottom but he has seen increases more recently because we are starting to look at his Presidency more objectively.

I really found the C-SPAN survey to be interesting and informative. I look forward to seeing another come out after the Obama administration leaves office. It will be interesting to see where certain Presidents rank at that point, specifically George W. Bush and Barak Obama. Below you will find a link to the survey and I suggest you explore and see if you agree with where your favorite President ranks, especially in the various categories their are graded upon.

C-SPAN Presidential Survey:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...