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Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States


In political studies, historical rankings of presidents of the United States 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.

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, are the three most popular presidents among historians. The remaining places in the Top 11 are often rounded out by Harry S. Truman, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, James K. Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Recent presidents such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton tend to be rated among the greatest in world opinion polls, but do not always rank as highly among presidential scholars and historians. The bottom 11 often includes Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, William Henry Harrison, George W. Bush, Zachary Taylor, and John Tyler. Because William Henry Harrison (30 days) and James A. Garfield (200 days, incapacitated after 119 days) both died shortly after taking office, they are sometimes omitted from presidential rankings. Zachary Taylor also died after serving as president for only 16 months, but he is usually included. In the case of these three, it is not clear if they received low rankings due to their actions as president, or because each was president for such a limited time that it is not possible to assess them more thoroughly.


* Ranking calculated before president had completed his term in office.
** The Times poll is a British newspaper's poll of eight of its own journalists, not of academics.
Note: Grover Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive terms, serving as both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States; to date he is the only person to have achieved this distinction. Because of it, the total number of people who have served as president is one less than the number of presidents in order of succession.
  • "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".
  • Blue backgrounds indicate first quartile.
  • Green backgrounds indicate second quartile.
  • Orange backgrounds indicate third quartile.
  • Red backgrounds indicate fourth quartile.
  • Bg = Background
  • PL = Party leadership
  • CAb = Communication ability
  • RC = Relations with Congress
  • CAp = Court appointments
  • HE = Handling of economy
  • L = Luck
  • AC = Ability to compromise
  • WR = Willing to take risks
  • EAp = Executive appointments
  • OA = Overall ability
  • Im = Imagination
  • DA = Domestic accomplishments
  • Int = Integrity
  • EAb = Executive ability
  • FPA = Foreign policy accomplishments
  • LA = Leadership ability
  • IQ = Intelligence
  • AM = Avoid crucial mistakes
  • EV = Experts' view
  • O = Overall
  • Blue backgrounds indicate first quartile.
  • Green backgrounds indicate second quartile.
  • Orange backgrounds indicate third quartile.
  • Red backgrounds indicate fourth quartile.
  • Bailey, Thomas A. (1966). Presidential Greatness: The Image and the Man from George Washington to the Present. New York: Appleton-Century.  → A non-quantitative appraisal by leading historian.
  • Bose, Meena; Landis Mark (2003). The Uses and Abuses of Presidential Ratings. New York: Nova Science Publishers. ISBN .  → A collection of essays by presidential scholars.
  • DeGregorio, William A. (1993). The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (4. ed., rev., expanded, and up-dated ed.). New York: Barricade Books. ISBN .  → Contains the results of the 1962 and 1982 surveys.
  • Eland, Ivan (2009). Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty. Oakland, California: Independent Institute. ISBN . 
  • Faber, Charles; Faber, Richard (2000). The American Presidents Ranked by Performance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN . 
  • Felzenberg, Alvin S. (1997). "There You Go Again: Liberal Historians and the New York Times Deny Ronald Reagan His Due". Policy Review. 82: 51–54. ISSN 0146-5945. 
  • Holli, Melvin G. (1999). The American Mayor: The Best & the Worst Big-City Leaders. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press. ISBN . 
  • Merry, Robert W. Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Miller, Nathan (1998). Star-Spangled Men America's Ten Worst Presidents. New York: Scribner. ISBN . 
  • Murray, Robert K.; Blessing, Tim H. (1994). Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents, from Washington Through Ronald Reagan (2., updated ed.). University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press. ISBN . 
  • Nichols, Curt (2012). "The Presidential Ranking Game: Critical Review and Some New Discoveries". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 42 (2): 275–299. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5705.2012.03966.x. ISSN 0360-4918. 
  • Pfiffner, James P. (2003). "Ranking the Presidents: Continuity and Volatility" (PDF). White House Studies. 3: 23. ISSN 1535-4768. 
  • Ridings, William J., Jr.; McIver, Stuart B. (1997). Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing. ISBN . 
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. (1997). "Ranking the Presidents: From Washington to Clinton". Political Science Quarterly. 112 (2): 179–190. doi:10.2307/2657937. 
  • Skidmore, Max J. (2004). Presidential Performance: A Comprehensive Review. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN . 
  • Skidmore, Max J. (2001). "Ranking and Evaluating Presidents: The Case of Theodore Roosevelt". White House Studies. 1 (4): 495–505. ISSN 1535-4768. 
  • Taranto, James; Leo, Leonard (2004). Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and Worst in the White House. New York: Wall Street Journal Books. ISBN .  → For Federalist Society surveys.
  • Vedder, Richard; Gallaway, Lowell (2001). "Rating Presidential Performance". In Denson, John V. (ed.). Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute. ISBN . 
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