Where does Donald Trump rank on the list of American presidents?
We surveyed presidential politics experts to sketch out a first draft of Trump’s place in presidential history.
Since our previous survey in 2014, some presidential legacies have soared (Barack Obama’s stock has climbed into the top 10), while others have fallen (Andrew Jackson toppled to 15, out of the top 10).
And President Trump? Let’s say that, according to the 170 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section who filled out our survey, he has at least three years to improve on an ignominious debut.
Presidential Greatness Rankings
James Buchanan, who was at the helm as the United States careened into civil war, was dislodged from his position as our nation’s worst president by our current president, Trump.
His Oval Office predecessor, Barack Obama, shot into the top 10, up from 18th in the previous survey. Ulysses S. Grant also got a bump, up seven places from 2014, perhaps owing to a strong assist from Ron Chernow’s recent masterpiece.
The biggest declines were for Bill Clinton, arguably the result of contemporary scorn for his treatment of women, and Andrew Jackson, for evolving attitudes on his treatment of Native Americans.
Greatness Rankings by Party
On partisan-votes lines, Democrats ranked Ronald Reagan nine places lower than Republicans, while Democrats place Obama 10 places higher.
Counting only Republican votes, William McKinley — best known for winning the Spanish-American war, for defeating William Jennings Bryan twice in contests for the White House and for being assassinated by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz — holds a spot in the top 10.
Independents admire George H.W. Bush, ranking him higher than Obama.
Trump doesn’t get much of a lift from Republican-only vote: Even in their eyes, he’s a bottom-five president.
Next on Mt Rushmore
Which president deserves to have his likeness carved next into Mt Rushmore’s granite cliff? Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the overwhelming favourite, selected by two-thirds of our respondents.
Mt Rushmore by Party
It wasn’t just Democratic support that would carve F.D.R. on Mt Rushmore: All groups, including Republicans, named him as most deserving of that honour.
Roosevelt, the godfather of presidential liberalism, received more than twice as many votes from Republicans as Reagan, his conservative counterpart.
Trump’s initial rating places him in an ignominious category, but dozens of presidents have had slow starts and have course corrected to improve their public esteem. Beyond his reputation or ranking, Donald Trump’s very presidency may alter perceptions of presidential legacies as his unique approach to the office continues to surprise.
Brandon Rottinghaus is a professor of political science at the University of Houston. Justin S. Vaughn is an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State University.
-The New York Times