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WITT: Ranking presidential popularity

Since about 1948, various research firms have conducted surveys regarding the effectiveness of past presidents.

While some of these surveys, especially the earlier ones, might have relied only on the opinions of the general public, the later surveys and polls concentrated on the opinions of presidential scholars and historians.

The names of the polls and surveys include an amorphous grouping including: Murray-Blessing, Rasmussen, Gallup, Vision Critical/Angus Reid, Quinnipiac, Morning Consult, C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey and Siena College Research Institute.

One of the most recent polls was conducted by Siena and took place in 2018.

Since 1982, this poll has been conducted every four years in the year following the first year in office of the then-current president.

The college’s 2018 poll took place among 157 presidential scholars and the results coincided quite well with earlier polls as to the placement of the presidents.

Of course, poll results fluctuate because additional information comes to light regarding previous office holders and the opinion of them changes in relation to how others are perceived and rated.

The latest Siena poll, released on Feb. 13, 2019 asked those surveyed to rate each president on twenty different characteristic including: background, imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck, willingness to take risks, ability to compromise, executive ability, leadership ability, communication ability, overall ability, party leadership, relations with Congress, court appointments, handling of economy, executive appointments, domestic accomplishments, foreign policy accomplishments, avoiding crucial mistakes, experts’ view and overall.

While the top-rated presidents have consistently remained in the top tier, their relative positions shift marginally. Washington, Lincoln and FDR are traditionally the top three even when they change positions with one another. The 2018 poll rated Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln in that order, with Theodore Roosevelt coming in fourth. Rounding out the Top 10 were Jefferson, Eisenhower, Madison, Monroe, Truman and Kennedy.

Almost always in the lower tier have been Andrew Johnson (44), Buchanan (43), Harding (41) and Pierce (40). These are the ratings from the 2018 poll, and space number 42 has gone to Trump.

These are the overall scores of each; the individual scores within the categories listed above vary greatly.

For instance, Washington rated 10 (the higher the number, the worse the rating) for intelligence and 18 for party leadership. He probably got that 18 because there were no “parties” when he was elected president.

Andrew Johnson received his best score (34) on “willing to take risks,” obviously not considered a highly salutary characteristic.

Trump received only two ratings below the 40s; 10 for “luck” and 25 for “willing to take risks.”

Naturally, these rankings will shift as the years go by.

There’s something telling about the fact that, one year into his presidency, he is rated higher than only two other presidents, both of whom served more than 150 years ago.

Some who read this and realize that Trump is listed as the 45th president will wonder why there are only 44 indicated in the information included herein.

That’s because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and he has been ranked based on both terms considered as one.

A huge amount of information about presidential popularity can be found on Wikipedia.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.