A new survey of United States Presidents has enraged some on the right. The survey has been conducted before using the same criteria as the most recent result. But the low ranking of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has led some to protest the results and even mock them. What did the results say? And how were they decided?

Who Conducted The Presidential Survey?

The survey was conducted by the Presidential Greatness Project, which last surveyed participants about presidents in 2018. The survey respondents were members of the Presidents and Executive Politics section of the APSA (American Political Science Association). 29.5% of survey recipients responded.

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Presidential scholars and other experts were also among the respondents. The goal of the survey is to evaluate how the experts rank US presidents and why. The rankings are on a scale from 0 to 100. A score of 50 would mean a mediocre performance, while 100 would be an indication of presidential greatness.

No Surprise At Number One

While some of the survey results were controversial, the President at the number one spot was not. The man many people consider to be the best president ever topped the list, as he has in every previous survey. We’re talking about the great Abraham Lincoln.

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Lincoln is widely regarded as the most effective leader and best person to ever serve as President. He led the US through the Civil War and ended slavery. Those things alone are enough to earn him a place at the top of the list with a near-perfect score of 95.03.

Who Came In At Number Two?

The number two President on the list is also not a surprise. Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the United States out of the Great Depression and through World War II. He was the author of many of the country’s most important social programs, including Medicare and Social Security.

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With a score of 90.83, Roosevelt barely edged out the next President on the list. There’s no denying that his was a consequential presidency. He was the only president to serve more than two terms. In fact, his popularity led to the adoption of a two-term limit for presidents.

What About The Father Of The Country?

The next person on the list should come as no surprise. George Washington was a brilliant general and military strategist. He led the Colonial Army through the American Revolution to victory. He was chosen as our first President by acclamation.

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Of course, Washington has not been universally acclaimed by modern Americans. While undeniably a great leader, he was also a slave owner and therefore problematic by modern standards. Still, Americans have a special place in their hearts for their first President.

The Trust Buster At Number Four

There’s a big drop in scoring after the number three spot. While George Washington received a score of 90.32, the number four pick received a score of 78.58. We’re talking about Theodore Roosevelt, more commonly known as Teddy.

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Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th President of the US. He was sometimes referred to as the Trust Buster because he was responsible for breaking up monopolies. He famously said that he believed the President should “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The Sage of Monticello

The person rounding out the top five is another no-brainer: Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes referred to as the Father of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote some of the most stirring words in our history. Without Jefferson, there would be no “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

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Jefferson received a score of 77.53. Looking at the top five, it’s hard not to think about Mount Rushmore. The only President in the top five not carved into the mountainside is Franklin Roosevelt, and he easily could have been included.

Where’s The Controversy?

If the top five were predictable and unchanged since the last survey, you might be wondering why the results are controversial. Not surprisingly, given our political divide, there are some who feel offended that a president they supported was not ranked high on the list.

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Likewise, some were upset that a few recent Presidents received higher ratings than expected, including two who moved up 9 spots since the last survey. There were some other dramatic movements, but it’s the ranking of living Presidents that has caused the most furor.

Where Did Joe Biden Rank?

One of the most controversial ratings on the list was the ranking of our current leader, President Joe Biden. He came in at number 14 on the list with a score of 62.66. There were many on the right who felt the ranking was much higher than deserved.

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Biden’s presidency has not been faultless by any measure. While he has been successful with some legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act, there have been scandals as well. The investigation of his son Hunter is something that might have been expected to tank his rating.

Who Did Biden Beat?

Ronald Reagan is revered by Republicans, so it’s not surprising they took issue with his placement at #16. That’s two spots below Biden. As a reminder, Reagan presided over an economic boom and the end of the Cold War with the USSR.

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It’s important to note that Reagan’s presidency was not without controversy. His second term was clouded by the Iran-Contra affair. Officials in his administration were accused of doing an end-run around Congress to sell arms to Iran and use the money to fund the Sandinistas.

What About Donald Trump?

One of the biggest bones Republicans had to pick with the survey was the placement of former President Donald Trump. He’s one of the most divisive presidents ever, but many on the right argued that he didn’t deserve his low ranking on the list.

Source: Wikimedia/Michael Vadon

You might be wondering where Trump ranked. It’s perhaps not surprising that he wound up ranked dead list on the list at #45. His score was an unimpressive 10.92. That’s nearly six points lower than his closest competition, James Buchanan. Buchanan is often mentioned as one of the worst presidents in history.

Who Else Ranked Near The Bottom?

It might be interesting to see which other US Presidents were close to the bottom of the list. We already mentioned Buchanan. Andrew Johnson is ranked just above him. After he vetoed legislation to protect freed slaves, he became the first President ever to be impeached.

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Above Johnson is Democrat Franklin Pierce, who signed the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. His signature enacted a law that opened the American frontier to slavery. Next comes William Henry Harrison, who decided to seize land from Native Americans. It’s a pretty bad group.

Obama’s Meteoric Rise

Yet another controversy had to do with the ranking of Barack Obama, the United States’ 44th President. He came in at number 7 on the list, ahead of Reagan and other admired leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower and founding father John Adams.

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While it’s undeniable that President Obama was popular with some people, there are many who feel that his ranking is unwarranted and unreasonable. Many critics take issue with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which provides health insurance via a public marketplace.

The Role Of Recency Bias

One potential explanation for the high ratings of recent Presidents such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden is a bias that’s hard-coded into our brains. We’re talking about the recency bias. The recency bias is a tendency to favor more recent events over older ones.

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Most Americans living today remember Barack Obama’s presidency. We’re all living in Joe Biden’s presidency. That may explain the high rankings of the two most recent Democratic presidents. But it doesn’t explain Trump’s place at the bottom of the list.

Other Controversial Rankings

There are a few other controversies on the list. One is that Barack Obama ranked above President John F. Kennedy. But despite Kennedy’s popularity, there are arguments to be made that his spot is too high on the list based on his presidency.

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Kennedy is remembered as much for how his life ended as he is for anything else. He presided over the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco. There’s no way of knowing what he might have done if he’d lived, but it’s possible that his ratings are based more on nostalgia than anything else.

What Were Some of the Criticisms Of The Survey Methodology?

As we evaluate the survey results, it’s important to note how they were reached. There was no rubric provided to respondents other than the ratings scale from 0 to 100. In other words, the results are undeniably subjective and based on opinions.

Source: Wikimedia/George W. Bush Presidential Center

One critic pointed out that Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1984, when he won the Electoral College by 525-13 votes, should have been a factor in his ranking. Others believe that Joe Biden’s low approval ratings on immigration should have counted against him.

How Should We Rank Presidents?

All of this begs the question: how should we rate our presidents? What factors should be considered and in what ratio? After all, a survey like the recent one may be heavily biased and difficult to justify. Is there a better way to do it?

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Some of the metrics that we may want to consider include important initiatives, including landmark legislation. We might also want to factor in whether a President really did “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” as it says in the Presidential Oath of Office.

History Will Judge All Presidents

Some have accused the survey respondents of being “deranged.” We don’t know about that, but we can say that it’s impossible to judge a president’s long-term impact while he’s still in office. We don’t have any way of knowing what history will say about Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

Source: Pete Souza/White House

It may take some time, but it’s safe to say that history will judge the people who have led the United States. These rankings may rise and fall. We won’t know for a long time the impact that recent presidents have had on our country and the world.