Monday, February 28, 2011

The Brits Rate the Presidents

Via Matthew Dickinson, there's a new expert ranking of the presidents. This time, it's the Brits getting in on the act -- it's a survey of "UK specialists in US history and political studies." I should start off by reminding everyone that ranking presidents, while lots of fun, is essentially a game, not serious analysis. Nevertheless, it's a fun game, and one that I've posted about before, so I'll run through the news we can wring out of this one.

If I had to come up with a headline, it's that the Brits rank Ronald Reagan higher than most similar surveys over in the colonies have -- he's at #8, while the Siena poll last year had him #18. Alas, they love Woodrow Wilson, putting him at #6, which is a bit higher than most, but in my view he's just overrated by everyone. Perhaps similarly, they like Andrew Jackson, who has fallen from the top ten in most recent surveys; they make him #9.

They rank the Big Three FDR first, then Lincoln, then Washington. While if I'm asked I'll reverse that order, I have no real argument with anyone who has those three on top, in any order -- the big gap, as far as I'm concerned, is between 3 and 4.

Of the postwar presidents, the UK survey shows what I'd consider an inexplicable fondness for Jimmy Carter (#18!), and Richard Nixon (#23). Neither has ever ranked that high in an American expert survey. But while Reagan, Carter, and Nixon do well, Bill Clinton (#19) is at the low end of his usual range. This could be an effect of construction...the survey asks scholars to rank the presidents on five qualities, and then averages the results, and Clinton scores extremely low on "moral authority." A different system less interested in that dimension would have him several slots higher. On the other hand, it's interesting that the respondents put Clinton so low (34th of the 40 presidents rated) on moral authority. Especially with Andrew Jackson at 18th and Woodrow Wilson at 5th. For that matter, JFK is 21th on moral authority, so it can't be based on marital fidelity alone (or on honesty with the electorate).

Last note...the Grant rehabilitation stalls a bit on this one, with USG rating a respectable #29, which is better than how he's usually done but not as well as recent American expert surveys rank him.

1 comment:

  1. They must have had to grit their teeth to rate that Treasonous Rebel as high as #3!


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