It’s official: Trump is worst president EVER

Scholars place him far behind #15 James Buchanan, long considered the worst president

Reader Contributing Staff 

When he took office in 1857 as the 15th U.S. President, James Buchanan, at age 65, was the oldest man elected to the presidency. It was not his age but his sympathy for slavery and the South that kept him at the bottom of the presidential rankings, until the incompetent sexual criminal Donald Trump's presidency.

The 2024 Presidential Greatness Project Expert Survey was conducted online from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, 2023. 

The survey, conducted by Brandon Rottinghaus from the University of Houston and Justin S. Vaughn from Coastal Carolina University, engaged 154 experts, including members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association and scholars with recent publications in relevant academic outlet.

Joe Biden, the country’s current president, was included in the survey and was ranked 14th overall by the scholars who participated.

“Proponents of the Biden presidency have strong arguments in their arsenal, but his high placement within the top 15 suggests a powerful anti-Trump factor at work,” said Rottinghaus and Vaughn in a guest essay for the Los Angeles Times. “So far, Biden’s record does not include the military victories or institutional expansion that have typically driven higher rankings, and a family scandal such as the one involving his son Hunter normally diminishes a president’s ranking.”

“Scholars often emphasize stability of norms in assessing presidential greatness, so Joe Biden, serving after a tumultuous Trump administration, entered the survey on a high note,” Rottinghaus said. “Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall.” 

“In the first post-Trump survey, we see a significant bump for recent Democratic presidents with each one moving up in the rankings while each of the recent Republican presidents dropped down, with the exception of President Trump who remained at the bottom of the rankings,” Vaughn said.

Rating and ranking the Presidents 
The primary purpose of this survey was to create a ranking of presidential greatness that covered all presidents from George Washington to Joe Biden. To do this, we asked respondents to rate each president on a scale of 0-100 for their overall greatness, with 0=failure, 50=average, and 100=great. 
We then averaged the ratings for each president and ranked them from highest average to lowest. The results of this ranking are quite similar to the results from our previous surveys (released in 2015 and 2018): Abraham Lincoln again tops the list (95.03 average), followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (90.83), George Washington (90.32), Teddy Roosevelt (78.58), Thomas Jefferson (77.53), Harry Truman (75.34), Barack Obama (73.8) and Dwight Eisenhower (73.73). 

The most notable changes in this ordering are Franklin Delano Roosevelt moving up to #2 from the third spot last year, and Dwight Eisenhower falling back to #8 from #6 last year. The bottom of the rankings is also relatively stable. 
Donald Trump rates lowest (10.92), behind James Buchanan (16.71), Andrew Johnson (21.56), Franklin Pierce (24.6), William Henry Harrison (26.01) and Warren Harding (27.76). 
What is most noteworthy about the remaining presidents concerns who has risen and fallen through time. Since our initial survey, several presidents have had significant changes in their rankings. Barack Obama has risen nine places (from #16 to #7), as has Ulysses S. Grant (from #26 to #17), while Andrew Jackson has fallen 12 places (from #9 to #21) and Calvin Coolidge has dropped 7 spots (from #27 to #34). 

The next President on Mt. Rushmore 
When it comes to which president should join Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore, Franklin Delano Roosevelt again comes in first, by a wide margin (65.4%). Barack Obama came in second (11%), followed by a three-way tie between Dwight Eisenhower, James Madison and John F. Kennedy (4% each) 

The most and least 
polarizing Presidents 
In the current polarized political climate, we thought it would again be interesting to ask which presidents were considered by presidency experts to be the most polarizing. To do so, we asked respondents to identify up to five individual presidents they believed were the most polarizing, and then rank order them with the first president being the most polarizing, the second as next most polarizing, and so on. We then calculated how many times a president was identified as well as their average ranking. We then repeated the same process but asked which presidents were the least polarizing. 

Donald Trump is by far the most polarizing of the ranked presidents, selected by 170 respondents and earning a 1.64 average (1 is a “most polarizing” ranking). Andrew Jackson is second-most polarizing (74, 3.4), followed by Obama (69, 3.4) and Reagan (66, 3.6). 
Conversely, George Washington is clearly the least polarizing president, selected by 125 respondents and earning a 1.25 average (1 is a “least polarizing” ranking). Washington is followed by Eisenhower (91, 2.7), Lincoln (60, 1.8) and Truman (45, 3.5).

The most under-rated and over-rated Presidents 
Often, a president’s reputation does not fully match their performance. For myriad reasons, popular assessments of some presidents are rosier than their actual record merits, while other presidents deserve more positive assessments than they currently enjoy. 
We approached capturing scholarly assessments of these reputational mismatches by asking respondents to identify up to five individual presidents they believed were the most under-rated, and then rank order them with the first president being the most under-rated, the second as next most under-rated, and so on. We then calculated how many times a president was identified as well as their average ranking. 

We then repeated the same process but asked which presidents were the most over-rated.. Unlike our questions about polarization, there isn’t as much consensus on underrated presidents. Jimmy Carter is the most under-rated president, selected by 64 respondents and earning a 2.2 average (1 is a “most under-rated” ranking). Ulysses Grant is the second-most under-rated p. 9 9 (56, 2.4), followed by George H.W. Bush (47, 2.9), Eisenhower (45, 2.8), Lyndon Johnson (43 (2.3) and Biden (42, 2.9). 

Conversely, John F. Kennedy is considered the most over-rated president, selected by 84 respondents and earning a 2.4 average (1 is a “most over-rated” ranking), followed very closely by Ronald Reagan (83, 2.1), then Jackson (70, 2.3), Wilson (60, 2.9), Jefferson (37, 3.3) and Teddy Roosevelt (40, 2.5).