As the nation continues to celebrate our Presidents by commemorating Presidents’ Day and the birth of President George Washington, pluralities of Americans see President Abraham Lincoln as the best president ever and President Ronald Reagan as the best president since World War II.
A new Harris Poll also finds that attitudes to more recent presidents are highly polarized by party, with Democrats having much more positive attitudes to Presidents Kennedy, Clinton and Obama, and Republicans having much more positive attitudes to President Reagan.
When asked who they think was the worst president since World War II, a plurality which includes half of all Republicans name President Barack Obama, followed by Presidents George W. Bush and Nixon.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,319 U.S. adults ages 18+ surveyed online between January 24 and February 3, 2017.
Best and Worst Presidents since World War II
When asked who the best president was since World War II, the largest proportion of Americans (25%), including 51% of Republicans, choose Ronald Reagan. He is followed by presidents John F. Kennedy (16%), Franklin D. Roosevelt (16%) and Barack Obama (15%).
When asked to choose the worst president since World War II, the largest number (24%), including 50% of Republicans, pick Barack Obama, followed by presidents George W. Bush (16%) and Richard Nixon (16%).
These perceptions of more modern presidents – like so many other attitudes today – are highly polarized by party, and the more recent the president, the more polarized the opinions. The percentages of each party who see the following as the best presidents are:
• Reagan – 51% of Republicans vs. 6% of Democrats;
• Kennedy – 21% of Democrats vs. 9% of Republicans;
• Roosevelt – 19% of Democrats vs. 10% of Republicans; and,
• Obama – 29% of Democrats vs. 3% of Republicans.
Almost a quarter (24%) of Democrats see George W. Bush as the worst president, compared to only 5% of Republicans. Nearly half of all Republicans (48%) think Barack Obama was the worst president, compared to 7% of Democrats.
Best President ever
When it comes to picking the best president in the history of the United States, no one president receives 20% or more of the vote. President Lincoln (19%) tops the list, followed by presidents Obama (15%, including 30% of Democrats), Washington (14%), Reagan (13%), Kennedy (8%) and Franklin Roosevelt (7%).
Those polled were also asked to pick their second choice. When those who chose a president as their first or second choice are added together, the rank order is more or less the same, with Lincoln (31%) topping the list, followed by Obama (26%), Reagan (24%), Kennedy (19%), Washington (18%), Clinton (14%) and Franklin Roosevelt (12%).
No other president received more than 5% of the vote. With the exceptions of presidents Washington and Lincoln, very few Americans picked any presidents before World War II.