In the 2021 C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership, Abraham Lincoln was chosen as the country's top ranked president for the fourth time in a row. This is the fourth survey of its kind; the first was conducted in 2000, during Bill Clinton's final year in office, while the subsequent three surveys were held in the years after each respective president left office. Compared to the previous survey, the top nine presidents have remained in the same positions, while Barack Obama moved up from 12th place in 2017 to round out the top 10 in 2021. The bottom three presidents also remained unchanged from previous surveys, and were Abraham Lincoln's two predecessors and successor, ranked so low due to their perceived failures before and after the American Civil War.
A total of 142 experts took part in this survey, and were asked to rank each president on a scale of one (not effective) to ten (very effective) across ten different qualities. Scores in each area were then converted to an average value out of 100, and combined to give a total score out of 1,000. Generally, there was a strong correlation across the board in each area, for example, Lincoln ranked among the top four in each individual area, while Buchanan was in the bottom three of each. Despite this, there was some deviation; Lyndon Johnson was ranked second in the category Pursued Equal Justice For All, but 39th in International Relations. There has also been deviation over time, such as Woodrow Wilson falling from sixth place overall in 2000, to 13th place in 2021, or Ulysses S. Grant moving up from 33rd to 20th over the same period, as perceptions of past presidents' performances are revised over time.
The most recent president, Donald Trump, made his first appearance at number 41 on the list, out of a total of 44 entries (Grover Cleveland is generally viewed as the 22nd and 24th president, but has been included once here). In the individual criteria, Trump was ranked last in both Moral Authority and Administrative Skills, whereas Public Persuasion was the only area where he did not feature in the bottom quartile. The next survey will likely take place in either 2025 or 2029, at the end of Joe Biden's time in office, while we may be seeing Trump re-evaluated in the 2029 survey if he does run for office again and takes victory in the 2024 election.
Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2021
Joe Biden has not been included, and Grover Cleveland, who served as the 22nd and 24th U.S. President, has been counted as a single entry.
142 "historians, professors, and other professional observers of the presidency" were asked to rank the 44 U.S. presidents in ten areas of leadership, on a scale of one ("not effective") to ten ("very effective"). The scores were then tabulated and averaged, to give a score out of 100 for each category, and a total score out of 1,000.
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C-SPAN. (November 6, 2021). Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2021 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved December 01, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1123920/us-presidents-historian-ranking/
C-SPAN. "Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2021." Chart. November 6, 2021. Statista. Accessed December 01, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1123920/us-presidents-historian-ranking/
C-SPAN. (2021). Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2021. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: December 01, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1123920/us-presidents-historian-ranking/
C-SPAN. "Ranking of U.S. Presidents by Historians during The C-span Presidential Historians Survey 2021." Statista, Statista Inc., 6 Nov 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1123920/us-presidents-historian-ranking/
C-SPAN, Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2021 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1123920/us-presidents-historian-ranking/ (last visited December 01, 2022)