Only three U.S. presidents ranked lower than Donald Trump in a new survey of presidential historians and professional observers of the presidency.
What You Need To Know
- C-SPAN on Wednesday released the results of its fourth presidential survey, which polled 142 presidential historians and professional observers of the presidency
- Donald Trump, appearing in the survey for the first time, ranked 41st, faring only better than Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan
- Trump ranked dead last in moral authority and administrative skills; his best scores were for public persuasion (32nd) and vision/setting an agenda (36th)
- The top nine — led by Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — and the bottom three were consistent with the 2017 results
C-SPAN released the results of its fourth presidential survey Wednesday. The poll is conducted after a change in administrations, making this year’s survey the first that included Trump.
Trump ranked 41st, faring only better than Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan.
The survey, which C-SPAN notes is not a scientific study, included 142 historians and observers — 50% more than in 2017. The additional participants reflect “new diversity in race, gender, age and philosophy,” the network said.
Those surveyed did not rank the presidents themselves, but rather were asked to score them in 10 different leadership categories: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursuit of equal justice for all and performance within the context of the times.
The twice-impeached Trump ranked dead last in moral authority and administrative skills. His best scores were for public persuasion (32nd) and economic management (34th). He ranked in the bottom five in seven of the 10 categories.
Despite the changes in participants, there was no movement among the best and worst. The top nine — led by Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — and the bottom three were consistent with the 2017 results.
"What stands out to me here is the stability,” said presidential historian Richard Norton Smith. “It's interesting, particularly at the top and bottom of the list, how little significant movement there has been. By contrast, the living presidents seem much more likely to fluctuate. It's almost as if there was a boomerang effect where historians go overboard a bit when presidents leave office and they are at the nadir of their partisan reputation, and then they graduate to a less political status."
If history is any indication, Trump, who has hinted he might run for the White House again in 2024, might eventually rise in the rankings. In the first survey to include Bill Clinton, he ranked 21st, but is now 19th. George W. Bush debuted at No. 36, but is now up to No. 29. And Barack Obama has climbed from 12th to 10th.
Joe Biden will not appear in the rankings until after his presidency has ended.
Rachel Katz, C-SPAN's survey project coordinator, said the network acknowledges that it takes time after a president has left office to form a full assessment of job performance but that the survey is conducted shortly after a presidency “so that we have a benchmark, so that we have a window into what the historians are thinking soon after an administration ends.”
She said the poll helps fuel the debate about a president’s place in history.
“This is a way to start a conversation, get people talking about it, get them thinking about what makes for a good president, thinking about those individual leadership characteristics and think about the presidents that that you like, that you think did a good job and see how you would rank them in those specific characteristics,” Katz said during an appearance on C-SPAN on Wednesday.
Here are the survey's overall rankings:
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Harry S. Truman
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
John Quincy Adams
James K. Polk
Ulysses S. Grant
George H. W. Bush
William Howard Taft
James A. Garfield
Gerald R. Ford
George W. Bush
Chester A. Arthur
Richard M. Nixon
Rutherford B. Hayes
Martin Van Buren
Warren G. Harding
William Henry Harrison