Presidents Day: Americans like Reagan, scholars prefer FDR… and then there’s Dubya

Happy Presidents Day! If you’re a Republican, the good news is, nearly one in five Americans think Ronald Reagan was our greatest president. The bad news: George W. Bush is still scraping the bottom of the barrel. If you’re a Democrat: FDR, Bill Clinton, JFK and Barack Obama are good news for you (sorry, Jimmy Cater.) So here we go…

The annual Gallup presidential admiration poll brings no real surprises. The poll with the decided conservative tilt places Reagan on top in the estimation of more admirers than any other president. But the real surprise in the poll? The five percent of respondents who had “no opinion.” Medic!

And here’s something from Gallup that will not make you feel good about the state of knowledge in the good ole U.S.A.:

In the eight times Gallup has asked this same “greatest president” question over the last 12 years, one of three presidents — Lincoln, Reagan, and Kennedy — has topped the list each time. Reagan was the top vote getter in 2001, 2005, and now 2011. Lincoln won in 1999, in two 2003 surveys, and in 2007. Kennedy was on top in 2000, and tied with Lincoln in November 2003.

Americans as a group have a propensity to mention recent presidents, not surprising given that the average American constantly hears about and from presidents in office during their lifetime, and comparatively little about historical presidents long dead. Four of the five most recent presidents are in the top 10 greatest presidents list this year — Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, and Reagan.

Not surprisingly, there’s also a political divide, with four in ten Republicans saying Reagan was the greatest president and a majority of Democrats choosing Bill Clinton. Clinton also shows up in the top five among Independents, as does FDR.

I won’t even try to understand the five percent of Republicans who put George W. Bush in the top five. I’ll just suffice it to say the professional historians … um … disagree.

And so… in the 2010 Sienna College Research Institute poll of historical scholars, only four presidents: Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding, James Buchanan and poor old Andrew Johnson, ranked lower than Dubya on the presidential list. Part of George’s problem: he ranks 42nd out of 44 on intelligence. Eek.

So which presidents topped the Sienna list?

1 Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945)
2 Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
3 Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
4 George Washington (1789-1797)
5 Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
6 James Madison (1809-1817)
7 James Monroe (1817-1825)
8 Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
9 Harry Truman (1945-1953)
10 Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)

And in a move that will really cheese off the righties: our current president, Barack Obama, already beats out the Gipper:

11 John Kennedy (1961-1963)
12 James Polk (1845-1849)
13 Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
14 Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
15 Barack Obama (2009-present)
16 Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)
17 John Adams (1797-1801)
18 Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
19 John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
20 Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897)

Well, I think we just figured out who the tea party’s next target will be: historians…

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