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A New Poll Asked People to Rate the Last 12 Presidents, and the Results Are Only Surprising If You're Donald Trump

(Photos by Ethan Miller and Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Contrary to what he may claim from time to time, President Donald Trump is not the most popular president.

According to a University of Virginia Center for Politics/Ipsos poll released in advance of Presidents Day, Trump ranks on the low end of presidents in terms of popularity.


The survey asked 1,004 Americans to rate the dozen presidents who have served since the early 1950s.

The survey results, which show Obama near the top of the list and Trump near the bottom, would likely surprise only Trump:

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the two most recent Democratic presidents, round out the top four, while the current president, Donald Trump, finds himself near the bottom of the ratings.

Obama, Reagan, and Kennedy received the most support from respondents when asked which recent president they wish was serving in the White House right now.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being excellent, Kennedy had the highest average rating, 6.56, of any post-World War II president (going back to Dwight Eisenhower). The father-son Republican presidential pair of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush received the exact same rating, 5.45. Table 1 shows the average rating for modern presidents by the poll’s respondents.

The official rankings are as follows:

  1. John F. Kennedy
  2. Ronald Reagan
  3. Barack Obama
  4. Bill Clinton
  5. George H.W. Bush
  6. George W. Bush
  7. Dwight Eisenhower
  8. Jimmy Carter
  9. Gerald Ford
  10. Donald Trump
  11. Lyndon Johnson
  12. Richard Nixon

Kennedy had "the strongest bipartisan support of any modern president," the poll notes, receiving high marks from Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Kennedy's rating among Republicans was also "the highest rating the opposite-party identifiers gave to any modern president."

Reagan was the highest-rated president among Republicans and Trump earned the second-best score among Republicans, further indication that the GOP has "rallied around him." Trump earned the third-lowest overall mark among respondents, with the lowest ratings coming from Democrats.

As the nation commemorates Presidents Day, it's evident that Trump's popularity remains quite low outside of the GOP base.

Last year, a similar survey ranking presidential greatness also indicated just how polarized the nation is over Trump's ascendancy.

The Presidents & Executive Politics Presidential Greatness survey, a survey of 170 historians conducted by University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus and Boise State University professor Justin S. Vaughn, polled current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association and asked them to rate each president based on their performance. The results, released on President’s Day, place Trump in last place, knocking James Buchanan, whom many historians agree failed to stop the Civil War, from his former spot.

As the survey notes:

Donald Trump is by far the most polarizing of the ranked presidents earning a 1.6 average (1 is a “most polarizing” ranking). Lincoln is the second most polarizing president of those presidents ranked. He earned a 2.5 ranking. This is close to Polk as the second most polarizing president at 2.6. Trump was ranked “most polarizing” by 95 respondents and second most polarizing by 20 respondents. For comparison, Lincoln, the second most polarizing president on average, received 20 “most polarizing” rakings and 15 second “most polarizing” rankings… Similar to the results by party, respondents of every ideological orientation found President Trump to be the most polarizing of all modern presidents. Respondents who identified as liberal (1.35) and somewhat liberal (1.64) are the most likely to rank President Trump as polarizing, but those identifying as somewhat conservative (1.85) or conservative (2.42) also ranked him as polarizing.

To grade Trump’s first year, respondents were asked to grade him “on the traditional academic A-F scale along five key dimensions: his presidency overall, legislative accomplishments, foreign policy leadership, embodying institutional norms, and communicating with the public.” There were 155 responses to these questions, yielding 775 grades total:

Overall, Trump earns 3 Fs and 2 Ds, with his best score on Communicating with the Public and his lowest on Embodying Institutional Norms. As one might expect for a Republican president, Trump did best with self-identified Republicans and those who identified as either conservative or somewhat conservative. However, he did not do extremely well even with these groups. Self-identified Republicans gave him 3 Ds and 2 Cs, with his best marks in Foreign Policy Leadership and Communicating with the Public.

There's a catch, however:

But those identifying as either conservative or somewhat conservative gave him 4 Ds and 1 F, with the latter grade concerning his embodiment of institutional norms. Again, as one might expect, Trump did worst with Democrats and those identifying as either liberal or somewhat liberal; both groups gave Trump 4 Fs with a D in Communicating with the Public. His grade from those identifying as ideological moderates matched his overall report card – 3Fs and 2Ds, though with a slightly different highlow pattern.

"In sum, Trump’s freshman year grades were not strong, even among those experts most likely to support him," the survey concludes, noting that Trump "consistently did very poorly when it comes to Embodying Institutional Norms and performed best in Communicating with the Public, but never received higher than 14 the equivalent of a C from any group along any dimension."

A sampling of some of the results:

GREATEST PRESIDENTS

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Thomas Jefferson

LEAST GREAT PRESIDENTS

  1. Donald Trump
  2. James Buchanan
  3. William Henry Harrison
  4. Franklin Pierce
  5. Andrew Johnson

A RANKING OF RECENT PRESIDENTS

  • Donald Trump (44th)
  • Barack Obama (8th)
  • George W. Bush (30th)
  • Bill Clinton (13th)
  • George H.W. Bush (17th)
  • Ronald Reagan (9th)

Since the 2014 survey, Barack Obama climbed 10 spots, Bill Clinton fell 5 spots, and George W. Bush rose 5 spots.