Political scientists rank Trump last in 'presidential greatness'

  • In a recent survey, 170 political scientists rank Donald Trump last in "presidential greatness," below even such perennial bottom-dwellers as James Buchanan and William Henry Harrison.
  • Many scholars, however, caution that presidential greatness rankings are often politicized in favor of "progressive" presidents, and are invariably influenced by the prejudices of the time the surveys are conducted.

A new survey of 170 political scientists ranks Donald Trump dead-last when it comes to “presidential greatness."

The 2018 Presidents and Executive Politics Presidential Greatness Survey, conducted by Brandon Rottinghaus of the University of Houston and Boise State University’s Justin S. Vaughn, was designed to “create a ranking of presidential greatness that covered all presidents from George Washington to Donald Trump.“

"Experts in every poll (and apparently of every political stripe) rewarded ‘progressive’ presidents."   

The respondents were all current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association, which has at times been criticized for advancing a left-leaning viewpoint.

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“To do this, we first asked respondents to rate each president on a scale of 0-100 for their overall greatness, with 0=failure, 50=average, and 100=great,” the professors explain. “We then averaged the ratings for each president and ranked them from highest average to lowest.”

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Frank Delano Roosevelt topped the charts with 95.03, 92.59 and 89.09 points respectively. President Trump, however, came in last with only 12.34 points.

According to the survey, the current commander-in-chief is ranked right below James Buchanan—who is frequently criticized for his inept handling of the secession crisis that immediately preceded the Civil War—and William Henry Harrison, who died just one month after taking office.

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The 2018 survey also asked scholars which president’s likeness they would like to see added to those of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore.

While FDR came first with 108 votes, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Washington managed to receive a total of five votes even though they are already included in the monument.

The survey also examined presidential polarization, and asked the responding scholars “to identify up to five individual presidents they believed were the most polarizing, and then rank order them with the first president being the most polarizing, the second as next most polarizing, and so on.”

According to the study, Trump “is by far the most polarizing of the ranked presidents,” with Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush coming in second and third, respectively.

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Presidential greatness surveys have been criticized by some scholars for being too subjective and for comparing the un-finished record of sitting presidents to the legacies of historical figures.

"Presidential greatness, however, is not decided over the short run,” Nelson Polsby contended in a 1977 article. “Yet the things that mass publics like today are frequently attractive to historians when painted on a larger canvas."

Meanwhile, a 2012 Baylor University study found that “experts in every poll (and apparently of every political stripe) rewarded ‘progressive’ presidents, gauged to be above average in their pursuit of ‘equal justice for all,’ with higher ratings.”

“This does not show that experts are simply biased, but rather suggests that evaluation now takes place in a cultural milieu that favors presidents dedicated to equal justice,” the study adds.

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Nikita Vladimirov
Nikita Vladimirov | Correspondents Editor

Nikita Vladimirov is a Correspondents Editor for Campus Reform. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he wrote for The Hill, where he extensively covered the latest political developments in U.S. and around the world. A 2016 national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists' "Mark of Excellence Award," Nikita now resides in Washington D.C. and contributes to the Washington Examiner. His work has appeared on the front pages of The Drudge Report and The Hill, and has been featured by leading media organizations including Fox News, MSN, Real Clear Defense and many others.

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