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Historians' ranking of U.S. presidents 2017

According to a 2017 survey of 91 presidential historians, Abraham Lincoln was ranked as the most effective U.S. president of all time, with a score of 907 out of 1,000. According to the ten criteria used to rank the 43* presidents, Lincoln was in the top four for each list, and had the highest score when it came to crisis leadership, administrative skills, vision and equal justice. George Washington was ranked second in the list with a score of 868, and had the highest score in terms of economic management, moral authority and performance within the context of time, but was ranked 13th when it came to "pursued equal justice for all". Franklin D. Roosevelt came in third, with the top score in public persuasion and international relations, and Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower rounded out the top five spots. Lyndon B. Johnson was ranked as the tenth most effective president overall, however had the highest score when it came to relations with Congress. The top three presidents also have the distinction of leading the nation during three of its most significant wars; respectively, the American Civil War, American Revolutionary War, and Second World War.

Most unpopular presidents

While Abraham Lincoln was deemed to be the most effective president among the surveyed historians, the bottom three spots on this list are occupied by his two immediate predecessors and successor. With a score of 245 out of 1,000, James Buchanan was deemed to be the least effective president, ranked bottom in seven of the ten lists, due to his contributions to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Andrew Johnson, who assumed the presidency following Lincoln's assassination, is remembered for his inability to work with congress and pass legislation in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, and his impeachment in 1868 left him as a lame duck for the remainder of his term; for this reason, he ranked the lowest for relations with congress and administrative skills. Herbert Hoover, who had previously served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, was ranked as the 36th most effective leader overall, but had the lowest ranking in terms of economic management due to his handling of the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression.

Modern presidents

While the presidents at each end of this list tend to rank either very highly or very poorly in all lists, there is much more variety among those in the middle. For example, Barack Obama, the most recent president included here, was ranked as the 12th most effective president in U.S. history; Obama was ranked in third place in the "pursued equal justice for all" category, but came in fifth from bottom in terms of his relations with Congress. Similarly, Bill Clinton was ranked as the 15th most effective president, scoring very highly in economic management, but very poorly in moral authority. George W Bush was ranked in the bottom quartile overall, and consistently ranked in the bottom half of most lists (particularly international relations). It remains to be seen where the incumbent President Donald Trump will be ranked by historians, although C-SPAN are likely to repeat the survey at the end of his term, in either 2021 or 2025.

Ranking of U.S. presidents by historians during the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2017

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Source

Release date

2017

Region

United States

Survey time period

1789 to 2017

Number of respondents

91 respondents

Method of interview

Panel survey

Supplementary notes

*Donald Trump has not been included, and Grover Cleveland, who served as the 22nd and 24th U.S. President, has been counted as a single entry.

91 "historians and other professional observers of the presidency" were asked to rank the 43 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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