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Bill Clinton ranks high in new historical presidents study

February 17, 2015 by NCC Staff


Two professors have put together the first survey of experts in three years about great Presidents, and Bill Clinton has made a big leap from a previous study.

clintonannotatedBack in 2010 and 2011, Clinton ranked 13th and 19th among the 43 Presidents considered in surveys fielded by Siena College (of 238 Presidential scholars) and by the London-based United States Presidency Centre. In all, Clinton had appeared in 11 presidential surveys and his aggregate rank was 20th out of 43 Presidents.

But a new survey of political scientists conducted by Justin Vaughn at Boise State University, and Brandon Rottinghaus at University of Houston puts Clinton in the list of near-great Presidents, as the 8th best President ever.

Vaughn and Rottinghaus contacted 391 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents & Executive Politics section, and 162 surveys were completed.

“The very top of the rankings are consistent with what similar studies have shown for years – America’s greatest Presidents are Lincoln, Washington and Franklin Roosevelt,” Vaughn said. “What is new and noteworthy, though, is the rise of Bill Clinton as one of the greatest modern Presidents and the slow sinking of Barack Obama to the bottom quartile of modern Presidents.”

Clinton was the highest-ranking modern President, ahead of Ronald Reagan (11th), Lyndon Johnson (12th), John Kennedy (14th) and George H.W. Bush (17th).

The official top 10 list was topped by Abraham Lincoln as the greatest President, followed by George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Clinton, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson.

The surveys also showed that political scientists had mixed feelings about Obama and negative views of George W. Bush.

Vaughn said Obama was ranked in the bottom half of modern presidents for diplomatic skills and his ability to work with Congress, and was ranked only “marginally better” for personal integrity and military skill.

“Obama’s sub-par standing on these facets of presidential greatness reflects scholars having several years of evidence to base their assessment on, rather than initial studies, where projections of hope and anticipation were still factored in. Now, barring something extraordinary in the last two years of his administration, experts generally know what they are getting from the Obama Administration,” Vaughn said.

George W. Bush had the 35th highest overall rating (out of 43 Presidents) and was the fifth most popular choice when scholars were asked for their list of the worst presidents.

This group of experts considered James Buchanan was the lowest ranked president, followed by Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce.

The most polarizing Presidents among the scholars were Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson. A significant number of scholars put these four Presidents in both the “best” and “worst” categories.

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