Professors Pick America’s Most Popular Presidents

College Days Staff
Ripon College Days

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s still got it. Roosevelt tops the list of America’s Greatest President, according to a recent nationwide survey of college professors.

The survey, conducted since 1982 by the Siena Research Institute, lists FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as the top five.

The survey is based on responses by more than 200 history and political science experts from American colleges and universities.

“FDR’s margin over the others is probably due to the fact that whereas Lincoln confronted the crisis of the Civil War, FDR faced the crisis of both the great Depression and that of World War II,” said Tom Kelly, a Siena College history professor and a co-director of the survey.

The top five remain unchanged from last year. However, Jefferson stumbled from number three in 1990 to number five in 1994, swapping places with Teddy Roosevelt.

“It is very likely that Jefferson’s decline from third to fifth place is due to the impact of the Sally Hemings affair – the charges that he fathered children with one of his slaves which, in recent years, has been increasingly accepted as true,” Kelly said.

The bottom ranks also show consistency.

“The bottom three have always – and properly – been (Warren) Harding, (James) Buchanan and Andrew Johnson,” Kelly said.

“It is particularly interesting that Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, and Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, represent the nadir of American presidents. Buchanan, on the eve of the Civil War, brought the Republic into peril, and Andrew Johnson’s racism played a role in the failure of Reconstruction. Harding represented only corruption in American politics.”

The survey also looked at how presidents fared in each of the 20 categories in the questionnaire. Clinton had overall ranks of 16 in 1994 and 18 in 2002. In handling of the economy, he was ranked second. He was ranked third in his ability to compromise. He ranked 38th in avoidance of crucial mistakes and 41st in integrity.