Among Presidents Since WWII, Ronald Reagan is the Best and George W. Bush is the Worst

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – February 15, 2012 – As the nation prepares to celebrate Presidents’ Day, it is always interesting to see what people think about some of the past presidents. Looking at all the presidents since World War II, one-quarter of Americans (25%) say Ronald Reagan is the best president, one in five (19%) say Franklin Roosevelt while 15% say it is John Kennedy and 12% say Bill Clinton. The nine other presidents, including Barack Obama, are at 4% or less.

    Looking at the flip side, just over one-quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say that George W. Bush was the worst president while just under one-quarter (22%) say Barack Obama is the worst; one in ten (12%) say the worst was Richard Nixon. The ten other presidents are at 5% or less.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,016 adults surveyed online between January 16 and 23, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

    Partisan differences

    Presidents are elected bearing a party label, so it’s not surprising that partisans have different opinions about who the best and worst presidents are. For Republicans, over half (55%) say Ronald Reagan was the best president and almost half (47%) say Barack Obama is the worst president. Among Democrats, there are three presidents bunched near the top for best – Franklin Roosevelt (25%), Bill Clinton (22%) and John Kennedy (18%). It’s an easier choice for worst president for Democrats as almost half (48%) say George W. Bush was the worst.

    For Independents, there isn’t a clear answer for either category. One-quarter of Independents (24%) say Franklin Roosevelt was the best, one in five (21%) say Ronald Reagan was the best and 17% say the best was John Kennedy. Looking at the other side, one-quarter (24%) say George W. Bush was the worst president while one in five Independents (19%) say Barack Obama is the worst.

    Best presidents in history

    If the list of presidents is expanded to include some of the founding fathers, such as Washington, Jefferson and Adams, as well as other presidents including Lincoln, Wilson and Jackson, the results of who is best change slightly. If we look at a combined best or second best, one-third of Americans (32%) say Abraham Lincoln was the best president, one-quarter (26%) say Ronald Reagan was the best and one in five say George Washington (21%), John Kennedy (21%) and Bill Clinton (19%) were the best presidents.

    So What?

    History has shown us that a president is best judged years after he has left office. Decisions made while sitting in the Oval Office may be seen as the wrong decision by many Americans at that point in time, but as time passes, the wisdom of some of these hard choices becomes clear. And, the reverse is also true.


     

    TABLE 1

    BEST PRESIDENT SINCE WORLD WAR II

    Looking at the list of presidents since World War II, which one do you think is the best president?

    Base: All adults

    Jan

    2008

    Jan

    2010

    Jan

    2012

    Party ID

    Republican

    Democrat

    Independent

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Ronald Reagan

    25

    25

    25

    55

    4

    21

    Franklin Roosevelt

    21

    22

    19

    9

    25

    24

    John Kennedy

    15

    14

    15

    8

    18

    17

    Bill Clinton

    11

    11

    12

    3

    22

    9

    Dwight Eisenhower

    4

    4

    4

    5

    3

    5

    Harry Truman

    4

    4

    4

    2

    7

    4

    Barack Obama

    NA

    4

    4

    1

    8

    4

    George W. Bush

    2

    1

    2

    5

     

    2

    Jimmy Carter

    3

    2

    2

    1

    2

    2

    Lyndon Johnson

    1

    2

    1

     

    1

    1

    George H.W. Bush

    1

    1

    1

    1

     

    1

    Richard Nixon

    2

    1

    1

    1

     

     

    Gerald Ford

    1

     

    1

    2

     

     

    Not Sure

    10

    9

    10

    7

    8

    10

    Note: Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding.

    Note: indicates less than 0.5%

     

    TABLE 2

    WORST PRESIDENT SINCE WORLD WAR II

    Looking at the list of presidents since World War II, which one do you think was the worst president?

    Base: All adults

    Jan

    2008

    Jan

    2010

    Jan

    2012

    Party ID

    Republican

    Democrat

    Independent

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    George W. Bush

    34

    31

    27

    7

    48

    24

    Barack Obama

    NA

    15

    22

    47

    6

    19

    Richard Nixon

    10

    10

    12

    10

    14

    13

    Bill Clinton

    17

    6

    5

    6

    4

    6

    Jimmy Carter

    13

    10

    5

    8

    2

    8

    Ronald Reagan

    3

    3

    4

    4

    5

    3

    George H.W. Bush

    2

    3

    4

    2

    5

    4

    Lyndon Johnson

    3

    2

    2

    1

    2

    3

    John Kennedy

    2

    3

    2

    1

    2

    2

    Harry Truman

     

    1

    2

    1

    1

    4

    Franklin Roosevelt

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    Gerald Ford

    1

    1

    1

    2

    1

    1

    Dwight Eisenhower

    1

    1

    1

    2

    1

     

    Not Sure

    13

    10

    12

    8

    10

    12

    Note: Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding.

    Note: indicates less than 0.5%


     

    TABLE 3

    BEST PRESIDENTS IN HISTORY

    Which one of the following presidents do you think was the best overall president in our history?

    Base: All adults

    Best or Second Best

    Best

    Second Best

    Jan

    2008

    Jan

    2010

    Jan

    2012

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Abraham Lincoln

    33

    32

    32

    21

    11

    Ronald Reagan

    25

    25

    26

    15

    11

    George Washington

    18

    19

    21

    13

    8

    John Kennedy

    22

    17

    21

    10

    11

    Bill Clinton

    17

    17

    19

    8

    11

    Franklin Roosevelt

    22

    22

    17

    9

    8

    Barack Obama

    NA

    9

    8

    4

    4

    Thomas Jefferson

    8

    7

    6

    3

    3

    George W. Bush

    5

    4

    5

    1

    4

    Harry Truman

    6

    4

    5

    2

    3

    Theodore Roosevelt

    6

    6

    5

    2

    2

    Dwight Eisenhower

    4

    5

    4

    1

    2

    Jimmy Carter

    3

    3

    3

    1

    2

    George H.W. Bush

    2

    2

    2

     

    2

    John Adams

    1

    2

    2

     

    2

    Richard Nixon

    3

    2

    2

     

    1

    Andrew Jackson

    1

    1

    1

     

     

    Lyndon Johnson

    1

    1

    1

     

     

    Calvin Coolidge

     

     

     

     

     

    Woodrow Wilson

     

     

     

     

     

    Gerald Ford

    1

    1

     

     

     

    Not Sure

    9

    9

    12

    8

    12

    Note: Totals for best and second best may not add to 100% because of rounding.

    Note: In this question the list included all presidents since Franklin Roosevelt and the other presidents in the table, but not any other presidents

    Note: indicates less than 0.5%

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 16 and 23, 2012 among 2,016 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

     

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    J41215

    Q975, 780

     

     

    The Harris Poll ® #16, February 15, 2012

    By Regina A. Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Youth, and Public Relations Research, Harris Interactive

    About Harris Interactive

    Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American and European offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.