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Rating the US Presidents From George Washington to George W. Bush.

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Presentation on theme: "Rating the US Presidents From George Washington to George W. Bush."— Presentation transcript:

1 Rating the US Presidents From George Washington to George W. Bush

2 Rating the US Presidents In the United States we like to rate a President. We measure him as weak or strong and call what we are measuring his leadership: we rate him from the moment he takes office. We are quite right to do so. Richard Neustadt Presidential Power (1960)

3 Presidential rating, 1948-2010 Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. conducted the first systematic rating effort for Life magazine in 1948 and did a follow-up in 1962. Presidential rating surveys now regularly engage scholars, the media and think-tanks

4 The objects of the exercise

5 Poll findings over time: Top 6 Schlesinger Sr. Schlesinger Jr. Federalist/WSJ 1962 1996 2000 1.Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln George Washington 2. George Washington George Washington Abraham Lincoln 3. Franklin D. FDR FDR Roosevelt 4. Woodrow Wilson Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson 5. Thomas Jefferson Andrew Jackson Theodore Roosevelt 6. Andrew Jackson Theodore Roosevelt Andrew Jackson

6 Ratings over time: Bottom 4 Schlesinger Sr. Schlesinger Jr. Federalist Society/ 1962 1996 WSJ 2000 Franklin Pierce Richard Nixon Andrew Johnson James Buchanan Andrew Johnson Franklin Pierce Ulysses S. Grant James Buchanan Warren Harding Warren Harding Warren Harding James Buchanan

7 The C-Span Surveys Arguably the most systematic surveys that seek to rank presidents on the basis of scores awarded for ten leadership qualities Public Persuasion Crisis Leadership Economic management Moral Authority International Relations Administrative Skills Relations with Congress Vision/Agenda-Setting Pursuit of Equal Justice to All Performance within Context of times

8 The C-Span Survey of 2009: Top 10Bottom 10 1.Abraham Lincoln33. Rutherford Hayes 2.George Washington34. Herbert Hoover 3.Franklin D. Roosevelt35. John Tyler 4. Theodore Roosevelt36. G.W. Bush 5. Harry S. Truman37. Millard Fillmore 6. John F. Kennedy38. Warren Harding 7. Thomas Jefferson 39. William H. Harrison 8. Dwight D. Eisenhower40. Franklin Pierce 9. Woodrow Wilson41. Andrew Johnson 10.Ronald Reagan42. James Buchanan

9 The ratings game – the shortcomings What is being measured? What is presidential greatness? How can we compare presidential leadership over time? Is it justifiable to give equal weighting to all categories when some are patently more important to a particular president? Are fine distinctions of leadership performance truly possible – particularly in the middling group of presidents (13-30)? Is there judgement bias in surveys because left-of centre scholars broadly favour liberal presidents? Do ratings favour earlier presidents because they are less familiar?

10 An example of rating anomalies C-Span 2009 survey ranked as follows for economic management 1. Washington 6. JFK 2. Lincoln7. Wilson 3. Clinton8. DDE 4. TR9. Jefferson 5. FDR10. Truman But Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9 occupied the presidency before it acquired its economic management role (& instruments thereof)... And wheres LBJ (11) and Reagan (17 - behind John Quincy Adams at 16)?

11 But the rating game continues… The rating game is here to stay because the president is the focal point of the US political system We expect presidents to be strong leaders and to use their leadership qualities to do good – so rating them in comparison to each other is one way of assessing how they measure up to such expectations

12 The UK Survey The first scholarly UK survey Confined to UK and Irish scholars (US and Canadian scholars based in UK excluded) Historians, political scientists and IR scholars participated Scholarly scepticism but media interest BBC News web article on survey received over 100,000 hits in 24 hours

13 UK Survey Method 47 scholars graded 40 presidents (William H. Harrison and Garfield excluded) Assessed on: vision/agenda-setting; domestic leadership; foreign policy leadership; moral authority; positive historical significance of their legacy

14 UK Survey: Best and worst (C-Span 2009 for comparison) 1.FDR (3)31. GW Bush (36) 2.Lincoln(1)32. Arthur (32) 3.Washington(2)33. Taylor (29) 4.Jefferson (7)34. B. Harrison (30) 5.TR (4)35. Fillmore (37) 6.Wilson(9)36. A. Johnson (41) 7.Truman (5)37. Tyler (35) 8.Reagan (10)38. Harding (38) 9. Jackson (13)39. Pierce (40) 10.Eisenhower(8)40. Buchanan (42)

15 The greatest presidents

16 Their achievement

17 The near greats

18 Their achievements

19 Reagan: Near great, great or...?

20 The worst presidents: scandal

21 The worst presidents: 1850s

22 Failure to resolve sectional crisis

23 Worst presidents: Reconstruction

24 Is there bias against recent presidents? No post-1945 president in UK top 5 Truman (7), Reagan (8), and Eisenhower (10) make top 10, but Reagan is the only post-1960 president to do so Does this reflect a decline in the quality of leadership or failure to allow that the modern presidency is a much tougher job?

25 Two surprises: JFK (15), Carter (18)

26 Nixon: No longer the pits, just average....! No 23 (between GHW Bush and Ford)

27 George W. Bush: A lowly rating (31st)

28 Obamas Prospects: Will the economy (and the public debt) decide?

29 One overview... … the presidency has been responsible for less harm and more good, in the nation and in the world, than perhaps any other secular institution in history. Forrest McDonald The American Presidency: An Intellectual History (1994)

30 ... And a contrary one Of the 14 presidents who held office from 1920 to 2009, only three were successful (FDR, DDE, RR) - Thomas Cronin, On the Presidency: Teacher, Soldier, Shaman, Pol (2009) Many scholars continue to attribute to the presidency highly romantic qualities of integrity, honesty, and competence rarely seen in the Oval Office. - Louis Fisher, Teaching the Presidency: Idealizing a Constitutional Office, PS, Jan. 2012

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