With Presidents Day just around the corner, the Siena College Research Institute has released its sixth poll of presidential scholars, historians and political scientists, ranking U.S. Presidents.
U.S. presidents have long been looked up to for their leadership and wisdom in governing. Some have been characterized as "father figures" and one — often referred to as "father of our country" — ranks, for the first time, number one on the Siena survey. Pollster Doug Lonnstrom says he found George Washington's rise to the top spot surprising. "In the five prior studies, Franklin Roosevelt was number one. And the reason he was number one, two major things happened during his administration: the Depression and World War II. And we came out of those both successfully. So that gave Franklin Roosevelt kind of a heads up on everybody else. Now, in this one, all of a sudden, Franklin Roosevelt dropped to number two and Washington shot up from number four to number one and basically, Washington is noted for his honesty and trust. And as a matter of fact, that's one of the categories where he comes out very high. So I'm thinking with the current turmoil in the political world right now, Washington is looking pretty good and hence he jumped up."
These tumultuous times find the sitting president entering the survey among the bottom five. "Most of the time, in their first year in office, the president is about a third of the way down. Somewhere around 20th, give or take a few spots. Bush, W, in the last one, came out 39th after his first year. So that was the first time that a sitting president came out so low. Now, Trump has beaten that. Trump's down at 42."
Scholars rated presidents on each of 20 categories that include attributes – such as intelligence, luck and willingness to take risks, along with abilities (think leadership and communication) along with accomplishments and avoiding mistakes. Theodore Roosevelt is rated highest on attributes, Lincoln tops the list on abilities, and Washington leads on accomplishments.
Another surprise: Dwight Eisenhower moved up to sixth, the highest ranking he has ever achieved. "And that's interesting because the first ever surveys were done by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., a Harvard history professor, in 1948, and then he repeated them again during the 50's. And he had Eisenhower as essentially a very poor president. Now, Ike has just worked his way up. Ike's image was he was like a grandfather, and just sitting back, wasn't really very involved. But now with the passage of time we've found that Ike was really very involved and was pulling the strings behind the scenes."
Lonnstrom says pollsters have found it takes about a half of a century for a president's position to be cemented in history. "So I think there's room for movement for Obama, I think there's movement for Clinton. I think there's a chance of movement for Trump as well and George W. Bush. So I think there is some chance of movement there, could be up or down, but I think there is still chance of movement. It's gonna take 50 years before we can say this is really where this president belongs in history."
Lonnstrom adds no one since Kennedy cracked the Top 10. JFK has rejoined the top 10 after two misses while Woodrow Wilson has dropped from eighth to 11th on the chart.