Saturday, April 15, 2017

Presidential Election Rankings + Andrew Jackson

“In political studies, historical rankings of presidents of the United States are surveys conducted in order to construct rankings of the success of individuals who have served as President of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political scientists or popular opinion. The rankings focus on the presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures, and faults.”  That is the opening statement by Wikipedia prior to displaying information on a number of presidential polling surveys that reflect back to 1948, 69 years ago, and 44 presidents.  (If you are really curious, and would like to see the total array of surveys including the latest one taken in 2017, click here).

The rankings display in Wikipedia illustrates 18 historical surveys from 1948 through the current year. This 2017 poll, the C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership has now taken place three times, in 2000, 2009, and 2017.  The newest survey consisted of 91 presidential historians surveyed by C-SPAN's Academic Advisor Team, made up of Douglas G. Brinkley, Edna Greene Medford, and Richard Norton Smith. In the survey, each historian rates each president on a scale of one (“not effective”) to 10 (“very effective”).

The survey is predicated on presidential leadership in ten categories each of which seems to be well selected and has important relevance.  They are, “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times”; each category is equally weighed.

The results of all three C-SPAN surveys have been fairly consistent. Abraham Lincoln has taken the highest ranking in each survey, and George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt have always ranked in the top five, while James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce have been ranked at the bottom of all three surveys.

To assuage your curiosity, here is how the presidents are ranked in this new survey, from number one to ten:

Lincoln, Washington, FD Roosevelt, T. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Truman, Jefferson, Kennedy, Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson.  I think I can anticipate your next question, so here is the answer:  Woodrow Wilson is number 11. (I know that isn’t it, but I put that in for context). The president (according to you know who) whose administration was a disaster, Barack Obama, ranked in the pantheon of presidential rankings as number12, right above James Monroe at 13.  WOW!

Particularly interesting is the fact that the Wikipedia chart is in color and it breaks down the entire 18 years of rankings into quartiles with the highest ranked presidents in blue, then green, orange and red. You can then discern at a glance the best to the worst. For example, from the administration starting with Harrison, through Tyler, Polk (the one exception), Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and then just after Lincoln came Andrew Johnson, every one was ranked in the 30’s and 40’s. By the same token, starting with FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all in the single digits.

Most readers will remember back to FDR, so here are the rankings in presidential order from that point.  See if you agree:  FDR 3, Truman 6, Eisenhower 5, L Johnson 10, Nixon 28, Ford 25, Carter 26, Reagan 9, GHW Bush 20, Clinton 15, GW Bush 33, Obama 12.     

After the series of articles published herein recently, the following is particularly interesting:  One of the biggest declines was that of Andrew Jackson, who slid from 13th in 2000 and 2009 to 18th. Richard Norton Smith, a presidential biographer and member of C-SPAN's advisory team, suggests that the changing fortunes of Eisenhower and Jackson are both partly the product of a “Trump effect.” 

“Jackson, Smith suspects, has declined in public estimation as his slave ownership and brutal policies toward Native Americans have acquired new significance. It probably doesn't help that Trump's approach to foreign relations has been described as “Jacksonian” for its pugnacity, unilateralism and contempt for human rights considerations. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson inspired a Broadway musical (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) that never found an audience.”

Also interesting is the news that as soon as he was elected and moved into the White House as the new president, Donald Trump had Andrew Jackson’s portrait hung in his office directly behind his desk, so that it shows in all the photo shots taken in his office. Apparently, President Trump now acknowledges the Doppelganger effect.

Although it is much too early to determine, as C-SPAN has for the prior 44 presidents, how President Trump will rank, it might be instructive to repeat the standards mentioned above against which Trump will also be judged.

“Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

On a scale of 1 to 10 on each, how would you vote?