Siena Research Institute

of Siena College, Loudonville, NY.


For Immediate Release:

Monday, August 19, 2002 

FDR America’s Greatest President 

Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Washington, and Jefferson Round Out Top Five    

Andrew Johnson, Buchanan, Harding, Bring Up The Rear 

LOUDONVILLE, NY   After twenty years and four expert surveys, the list of America’s Greatest Presidents remains remarkably consistent – and so does the list of our least regarded leaders, according to the latest Survey of U.S. Presidents conducted by the Siena Research Institute (SRI), at Siena College. 

The SRI Survey of U.S. Presidents is conducted during the second year of the first term of a new president. SRI began surveying expert opinion on the presidency in 1982 during the first term of Ronald Reagan, and continued during the terms of George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and now George W. Bush. The SRI survey is based on the responses of over 200 history and political science experts from American colleges and universities. Previous SRI surveys of U.S. Presidents have been reported in Presidential Studies Quarterly (a refereed journal published by the Center for the Study of the Presidency), the New York Times, Washington Post, and national news networks.  

Results of Siena Research Institute Presidential Ranking Survey

 

Top Ten Presidents by Survey Year

Rank

1982

1990

1994

2002

1

F. Roosevelt

F. Roosevelt

F. Roosevelt

F. Roosevelt

2

Jefferson

Lincoln

Lincoln

Lincoln

3

Lincoln

Jefferson

T. Roosevelt

T. Roosevelt

4

Washington

Washington

Washington

Washington

5

T. Roosevelt

T. Roosevelt

Jefferson

Jefferson

6

Wilson

Wilson

Wilson

Wilson

7

Truman

Truman

Truman

Truman

8

Kennedy

Madison

Eisenhower

Monroe

9

Madison

Jackson

Madison

Madison

10

J. Adams

Kennedy

Kennedy

Eisenhower

 

“American college and university professors clearly regard FDR, Lincoln, Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Jefferson as remarkable leaders,” says Tom Kelly, Siena College professor of History and American Studies emeritus and survey co-director. “FDR’s margin over the others is probably due to the fact that whereas Lincoln confronted the crisis of the Civil War, FDR faced the crisis of both the great Depression and that of World War II.  It is very likely that Jefferson’s decline from third to fifth place is due to the impact of the Sally Hemings affair – the charges that he fathered children with one of his slaves which, in recent years, has been increasingly accepted as true. ” 

Similarly, the bottom ranks show great consistency.  For the first three surveys, Pierce, Grant, Buchanan, A. Johnson, and Harding filled out the final five slots, in the same order; in this year’s survey, Fillmore served as a spoiler, elevating Grant off the list. 

“The bottom three have always – and properly – been Harding, Buchanan and Andrew Johnson,” explains Kelly.  “It is particularly interesting that Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, and Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, represent the nadir of American presidents. Buchanan, on the eve of the Civil War, brought the Republic into peril, and Andrew Johnson’s racism played a role in the failure of Reconstruction. Harding represented only corruption in American politics.”

 

Results of Siena Research Institute 
Presidential Ranking Survey

Bottom Five Rankings in Survey Year

1982

1990

1994

2002

35) Pierce

36) Pierce

37) Pierce

38) Fillmore

36) Grant

37) Grant

38) Grant

39) Pierce

37) Buchanan

38) Buchanan

39) Buchanan

40) Harding

38) A. Johnson

39) A. Johnson

40) A. Johnson

41) Buchanan

39) Harding

40) Harding

41) Harding

42) A. Johnson

 

The ongoing SRI studies are intended to provide a means of “tracking” the opinion of scholars regarding presidents, their successes and failures over an extended period of time.   Survey co-directors Thomas Kelly and Douglas Lonnstrom also point out that, in addition to demonstrating the stability of the presidential rankings, the survey illustrates changes in opinion, particularly for recent presidents, as the passage of time provides new information or greater objectivity.  For example, President Carter went from 33rd in 1982 to 24th in 1990 and 25th in the last two surveys. President George H. Bush went from 18th in 1990 to 31st in 1994 and 22nd in 2002. 

In addition to looking at overall rankings, it is also interesting to note how a president fares in each of the twenty categories that make up the questionnaire. President Clinton, with overall ranks of 16 (1994) and 18 (2002), was ranked in the top ten of all U.S. presidents in Handling of the economy (2nd), Ability to compromise (3rd), Communications ability (8th), and in Intelligence (9th).  He ranked in the bottom five in Avoidance of crucial mistakes (38th) and Integrity (41st), just above President Nixon’s rock bottom 42nd

“From a statistical standpoint, this survey has great validity,” says Dr. Douglas Lonnstrom, Siena College professor of statistics and SRI director.  “First, there is amazing consistency across the twenty years of the study, and second, the experts clearly were very selective in rating the presidents in each category.”  

Following this news release are tables revealing the list of twenty categories in which each president was judged and overall results from each of the four surveys. 

For additional information about the survey, including background, variations and interpretations of the rankings, contact Professor Tom Kelly at 518-372-7890 or Dr. Douglas Lonnstrom at 518-783-2362 (office) or 518-456-6073 (home). 

Attachments (2):

- The Twenty Categories

- Rankings by Survey Year
Respondents were asked to score all American presidents on a scale of 1 (minimum) to 5 (maximum) for the following categories: 

1)      Background (family, education, experience)

2)      Party Leadership

3)      Communication Ability (speak, write)

4)      Relationship with Congress

5)      Court Appointments

6)      Handling of U.S. Economy

7)      Luck

8)      Ability to Compromise

9)      Willingness to take Risks

10)  Executive Appointments

11)  Overall Ability

12)  Imagination

13)  Domestic Accomplishments

14)  Integrity

15)  Executive Ability

16)  Foreign Policy Accomplishments

17)  Leadership Ability

18)  Intelligence

19)  Avoid Crucial Mistakes

20)  Your Present Overall View 

Results of Siena Research Institute Presidential Ranking Survey

 

Rank in Survey Year

President

1982

1990

1994

2002

Washington

04

04

04

04

J. Adams

10

14

12

12

Jefferson

02

03

05

05

Madison

09

08

09

09

Monroe

15

11

15

08

J.Q. Adams

17

16

17

17

Jackson

13

09

11

13

Van Buren

21

21

22

24

W. Harrison

26

35

28

36

Tyler

34

33

34

37

Polk

12

13

14

11

Taylor

29

34

33

34

Fillmore

32

32

35

38

Pierce

35

36

37

39

Buchanan

37

38

39

41

Lincoln

03

02

02

02

A. Johnson

38

39

40

42

Grant

36

37

38

35

Hayes

22

23

24

27

Garfield

25

30

26

33

Arthur

24

26

27

30

Cleveland

18

17

19

20

B. Harrison

31

29

30

32

McKinley

19

19

18

19

T. Roosevelt

05

05

03

03

Taft

20

20

21

21

Wilson

06

06

06

06

Harding

39

40

41

40

Coolidge

30

31

36

29

Hoover

27

28

29

31

F. Roosevelt

01

01

01

01

Truman

07

07

07

07

Eisenhower

11

12

08

10

Kennedy

08

10

10

14

L. Johnson

14

15

13

15

Nixon

28

25

23

26

Ford

23

27

32

28

Carter

33

24

25

25

Reagan

16

22

20

16

G. H. Bush

-

18

31

22

Clinton

-

-

16

18

G.W. Bush

-

-

-

23

 

 


More Results Return to Siena Research Institute Page


Last Updated on December 06, 2004
By Siena College
Email: legendziewic@siena.edu