Politics March 28, 2017: Trump’s record low approval rating first in presidential history

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Trump’s record low approval rating first in presidential history

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

President Donald Trump’s approval rating numbers are sinking fast. The latest Gallup Poll released on Sunday, March 26, 2017, indicated that the president now has a 36 percent approval rating. The number is ten points less than his high of 46 percent just after his inauguration. Trump may not have the lowest approval rating in Gallup’s history, but it is the lowest so early in a presidential term. The poll comes just after the House of Representatives failed to vote on their Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

After just over two months in office, Trump’s approval rating is tumbling. The president has a 36 approval rating with a disapproval rating of 57 percent. The disapproval rating is not Trump’s highest on record for his short presidency; on March 18, he had a 58 percent disapproval rating. The approval rating number is also lower than his predecessor Barack Obama’s eight-year term. Obama had a 38 percent approval rating; however, it was in late in his first term in 2011 and his second term in office in 2014.

Trump’s first term low is only comparable to Democrat Bill Clinton (1993–2000). Clinton had a 37 percent approval rating during the summer of 1993, six months into his term. Clinton’s approval rating went on to rebound to 56 percent by September. Clinton also ended up serving two presidential terms, and he had one of the highest approval rating averages of all post-war presidents. Clinton’s low numbers early on did signify bad news for his party, the Democrats during the midterm elections. In November 1994, the Democrats lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans.

Gerald Ford (1974–1977) also saw 37 percent approval rating in his first year in office in January 1975, five months after assuming the office upon Nixon’s resignation mostly over his pardon of Nixon. Ford’s story did not have the positive ending Clinton did; Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

The Gallup Poll was conducted just after the Republicans failed to garner enough support to repeal and replace Obamacare. The repeal was a significant promise Republicans made to their constituents since the health care bill first passed in 2010. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency, the time seemed ripe for a change in the legislation. The conservative House Freedom Caucus, however, found the bill to moderate and too much like Obamacare Lite that their opposition tanked the bill.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was scrambling on Friday, March 24 to garner enough votes to pass the bill, but without the Freedom Caucus or any Democrats intending to vote in favor, the bill simply did not have enough votes, and Ryan decided to pull it upon the president’s request. With Trump’s five-point drop in his approval rating in one week, from 41 percent to 36 percent it is clear, Americans are blaming the president for failing to close the deal.

Trump’s approval rating numbers are not the lowest in presidential history. According to Gallup, the following presidents all saw their numbers below 36 percent during their presidencies. They include “Presidents George W. Bush (25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%).”

A low presidential approval rating is not all bad news for a president. The entire above-mentioned presidents saw their numbers improve except for Nixon, who went to resign in 1974 the presidency over the Watergate scandal. Trump, however, has his brewing scandal over Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign that swung the election to his favor. Inquiries are now trying to determine whether Trump campaign officials or even the president was involved in Russia’s election interference.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Politics March 10, 2017: Historians predict impeachment Trump presidency will not survive Russia scandal

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POLITICS

Historians predict impeachment Trump presidency will not survive Russia scandal

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

The way the Trump campaign transition Russia contact scandal is growing one historian believes Donald Trump will be forcibly removed from office in one of the shortest presidencies in American history. Ronald L. Feinman, a history professor at Florida Atlantic University, revealed his prediction for the longevity of a Trump presidency in a blog post on the History News Network, entitled “Donald Trump Is On His Way to Second or Third Shortest Presidency in American History,” published February 15, 2017. Historian Allan Lichtman, who successfully predicted Trump’s election, also predicts the new president might be impeached. Only the developing scandal with Russia gives these historians fantasy theories a little realism.

According to Feinman, Trump’s presidency would “likely between the 31 days of William Henry Harrison in 1841 (dying of pneumonia) and the 199 days of James A. Garfield in 1881 (dying of an assassin’s bullet after 79 days of terrible suffering and medical malpractice).” At the most, Feinman states Trump’s presidency “is unlikely to last the 16 months and five days of 12th President Zachary Taylor, who died of a digestive ailment while Head of State in 1850.”

Feinman is the author of the recently released book, “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015). Unlike the presidents Feinman wrote about in his book; he believes Trump would be either be impeached or forced to resign, which is why he is accounting for a possible longer “dragged out,” term. One of the possible ways, Feinman sees Trump leaving the presidency besides impeachment or resignation is that “Pence could, even if Trump vehemently opposed it, invoke the 25th Amendment, Section 4 with the approval of a majority of the cabinet, which would make Pence “Acting President.” Some might call it a “palace coup, “ but Pence could make a convincing case that it is too risky to leave Trump in power.”

The Florida Atlantic University professor wrote his post just as Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign because he lied about his contact with Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the contacts. The scandal has clearly grown. Now Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former Senator from Alabama lied at his Senate confirmation hearing about being in contact with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice before the election.

Other members of Trump’s inner circle including Senior Adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was present at a meeting with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration. At question is whether Trump and his campaign worked with Russia to get him elected. Russia did help Trump by hacking the Democratic National Committee and Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s email accounts and then transferring them to WikiLeaks, who posted them online.

Now it has been discovered that Trump met the Russian ambassador during the campaign at a receiving line before delivering foreign policy address at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. During the speech Trump, said, “I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia — from a position of strength — is possible.” The White House however, vehemently denied any negotiations between the two at the time in an official statement. Additionally, a senior White House official explained, “If they met, it was in passing at arrival reception hosted by National Interest which [Trump] was present at for all of 5 minutes. We arrived minutes before the speech began and departed immediately after.”

Trump has repeatedly denied any contacts or relationship with Russia, recently stating, “Look, how many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything.” Still, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are calling for investigations, Republicans will have no choice to heed to the demands for the sake of the party, with Senate and House intelligence committees looking into investigations and questioning Flynn. Sessions has already recused himself from any potential investigation the Justice Department may conduct.

Besides the Russia investigation, which had not fully exploded when Feinman wrote his blog post, he listed other causes that could lead to a Trump impeachment. Feinman explained, “Many foreign policy professionals are shaking their head at Trump’s inappropriate behavior and language every time he speaks in public, or issues a Twitter comment, and his instability and recklessness.” The historian also mentioned Trump talking the North Korean missile test in the public dining room at his Mar-a-Lago resort, his fight on the phone with the Australian Prime Minister, his speaking with Taiwan upsetting China, his position on Israel, respect for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and criticism of NATO.

Professor Feinman also believes “The Pence Presidency seems inevitable.” He pointed out that “Pence is already asserting himself with Trump, and it seems clear that Pence will not stand by and allow our foreign policy to be damaged, or our national security to be endangered.” Discussing Pence’s credentials Feinman calls the former one-term Indiana-Governor and former Congressman an “establishment Republican,” “a no-nonsense, hard-nosed Republican whose strong Christian convictions have shaped his politics.” Feinman notes that Pence’s “stands on issues” have “alienated moderate Republicans in his state.”

Feinman is not the first historian to predict that Trump could be impeached Allan Lichtman also predicted, shortly after Trump’s election that he would be impeached. Lichtman, however, successfully predicted that Trump would win the election, unlike Feinman, who thought Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win in an Electoral College landslide. Lichtman was predicting just a week after the election, that “There’s a very good chance that Donald Trump could face impeachment.”

Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington, has been successfully predicting presidential elections since 1984. Lichtman again this year laid out his case in the book, “Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2016.” Lichtman uses keys, “a set of 13 true/false statements. If six of them are false, the incumbent party loses the presidency.” The keys are rooted in a “historically based prediction system that were founded on the study of every presidential election from 1860 to 1980.”

Using this method, Lichtman has been right for every election since 1984, except 2000, where Democratic nominee Al Gore won the popular vote, and Republican George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote only after the Supreme Court awarded him Florida’s Electoral College votes. Lichtman might have used a semi-scientific method for predicting the election results, but his prediction on Trump’s impeachment is based on his “instinct.”

Lichtman had some reasons to back up his claims, arguing, “First of all, throughout his life, he has played fast and loose with the law. He has run an illegal charity in New York state. He has made an illegal campaign contribution to that charity. He has used the charity to settle personal business debts. He faces a RICO lawsuit.”

The probability that a Republican-controlled Congress would impeach Trump seems improbable, but Lichtman does not think so. According to the American University professor, “The Republicans are nervous about Donald Trump. He is a loose cannon. Nobody knows what he really believes or really where he stands. He can’t be controlled. The Republicans would vastly prefer to have Mike Pence, an absolutely predictable down-the-pipe conservative Republican.”

Both are known as liberals and Democrats, whose predictions may be tinged with bias. If it would not be for the growing scandal around Russian contacts within the Trump campaign before his inauguration and Democratic calls for an independent counsel to investigate, Feinman’s blog post might sound utterly sensational; a liberal fantasy baits click.

In fact, many of Feinman hypotheticals seem that way, the professor’s tone comes out fanatically liberal. Feinman sounds especially so with the line, “Pence faces now a situation that has some similarity to Gerald Ford under Richard Nixon during a time of trouble and controversy, and the possibility of future Congressional action against Donald Trump if his mental behavior continues to disturb the top leadership of the Republican Party and the foreign policy establishment.”

Trump’s temperament has become an issue because he maximizes the social media when everyone comes out looking like they have psychological problems with over-sharing. Trump is hardly the first president with a temper, hatred or suspicion of the press or even conspiracy theories, just the first to have a platform to disseminate his thoughts readily to the public.

The scandal with Russia, however, lends some credibility to Feinman’s claims. Even if Democrats and Hillary Clinton have their wish fulfillment and Trump is impeached, the chances of that happening under a Republican controlled Congress are not very high. If in the midterm- elections in 2018, Democrats win a majority Trump could be more at risk, since liberals are fantasying about his impeachment even before he was inaugurated and actually did anything impeachable.

Still, that would take much longer than Feinman’s assessment. Chances are Feinman and Lichtman will both be wrong, the more probable bet is that Trump will probably not have one of the shortest presidencies in history, resign or even be impeached, but could very much join the ranks of the many presidents who have only served one term in office. Then again, Trump could surprise everyone as he did with his first election, and become a two-term president, and then maybe Democrats possibly might realize their dreams of impeachment.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education March 9, 2017: Montreal tops QS World University Rankings 2017 Best Students Cities

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EDUCATION

Montreal tops QS World University Rankings 2017 Best Students Cities

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

For the first time Canada is topping an international university ranking list, however, the honors are not to any particular college, but for a city, Montreal. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the company behind the World University Rankings, released their sixth annual QS Best Student Cities index on Feb. 15, 2017, with Montreal, Quebec breaking Paris’ four-year reign as the best cities for students. Last year, Montreal placed seventh in their ranking of the top 100 cities for students. QS argues “Montreal’s success is the latest of a series of propitious signs for a city beginning to escape a period of economic stagnation, following positive growth forecasts for 2017, and the recent announcement of its selection as the ‘World’s Most Intelligent City.’”

As for the rest of the top ten, Paris, France moves down to second place mostly because of the recent rash of terrorist attacks losing points in Affordability and Desirability. London, England moved up two spots top third, clearly not affected by Brexit worries. United Kingdom cities earn points for Affordability and represent eight cities on the list. The top city in Asia is Seoul, South Korea in fourth moved up from tenth and taking the post from Tokyo last year’s third place, but now is seventh. In fifth is the top city in Australasia, Melbourne in Australia, last year it was in second place. Australia has seven cities on the list, all losing ground because of “Affordability issues.” Berlin, Germany moves up from ninth to sixth, Germany has another city in the top ten with Munich at ninth place.

The only top ten-city showing for the United States is Boston, Massachusetts in eighth place moving up from 13th place last year. Boston is the home of QS World University Ranking’s top school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Harvard University ranked third. The US still has the most cities in the ranking with 12, but 10 of them saw their numbers fall because of Affordability. Rounding out the top ten is another Canadian city, Vancouver, British Columbia. Despite Asian universities rising in preeminence in global rankings, two Asian cities dropped out of the top ten, Singapore dropping from the sixth place to 14th, while Hong Kong dropped from eighth to tie for 11th.

Canada features three universities in this year’s QS World University Rankings the top 50. Montreal’s McGill University holds QS’s top spot at №30, moving down six spots, but reclaiming the top spot for Canada. The University of Toronto falls two to №36, while the University of British Columbia is the only one to rise, moving up five to 45th place. The QS ranking is the only international ranking where McGill is the top school in the country; University of Toronto usual takes that honor.

Beside, McGill, Montreal is home to another school that made the QS World University Rankings, the French language, Université de Montréal, placing “126th in the world and fifth in Canada.”Additional universities in Montreal include the English language Concordia University, a comprehensive university, and the Université de Québec a Montréal, a research university.

McGill’s principal Suzanne Fortier told Canadian CTV News, “A place where students, while they’re here in Montreal can start doing some internships for example in the business world so they can see what the future might look like for them.” While Concordia’s president Alan Shepard sees the enrollment benefits of Montreal topping the ranking, telling CTV, “The chaos in the U.S., my home country, and the difficulties with Brexit and elsewhere in Europe, and the security issues, are going to make Canada an incredibly attractive place. But we shouldn’t take that for granted.”

The methodology to determine the list looks at six factors, university rankings, student mix, desirability, employer activity, affordability. A seventh factor was added in 2017, student view, a global “survey of students and recent graduates.” As QS’ press released pointed out Montreal, “Multicultural, bilingual, student-centered and inclusive, Canada’s “cultural capital” performs well in all six categories of the QS Best Student Cities index.”

QS World University Rankings was originally a collaboration between the education and career company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) with the Times Higher Education (THE) to create a world university ranking in 2003. For five years their World University Rankings list was published on THE, with QS supplying the data. In 2010, Times Higher Education decided to break off the partnership and pair up with Thomson Reuters to produce their ranking list. The decision was mostly because of the heavy reliance of using peer reviews to determine the rankings. The QS World University Rankings first appeared in its present format in 2010.

QS Best Student Cities 2017:
1. Montreal
2. Paris
3. London
4. Seoul
5. Melbourne
6. Berlin
7. Tokyo
8. Boston
9. Munich
10. Vancouver

Canadian cities in the top 100:

  1. Vancouver (10th)
  2. Toronto (11th)
  3. Ottawa (26th)
  4. Quebec City (72nd)

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

History March 9, 2017: Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

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Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Lincoln remains nation’s best president according to new historians poll

Credit: Whitehouse.gov

The greatest American presidents in history cemented their positions in the latest ranking of presidents by historians. On Friday, February 17, 2017, C-SPAN released their third survey ranking of American presidents entitled “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” where Civil War President Abraham Lincoln again tops the poll conducted by 91 historians. C-SPAN has done the ranking three times each time after the latest president left office in 2000, 2009 and now 2017. This time Barack Obama has his first ranking in the pantheon of presidential greats, and he comes in a respectably high 12th place. Presidential rankings are often controversial whether conducted by presidential scholars or public opinion polls, with both often-generating conflicting results and not indicative of presidential history or greatness.

According to C-SPAN’s survey, the top four presidents after Lincoln are George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln (1861–1865), has topped the C-SPAN survey all three times. Lincoln served as president during the Civil War, was able to save the Union, put an end to slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, but whose time was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet before he could implement his Reconstruction plan. Washington’s (1789–1797) high status is attributed to his being the nation’s first president and the model all presidents have strived to since.

Franklin Roosevelt (1933–45) had the longest time in office, he was the only president elected to four terms but died in months into his fourth term. Roosevelt created the modern welfare state and expanded presidential powers that no previous president had done, creating the first imperial presidency. Roosevelt’s New Deal program helped the nation recover from the great economic depression and later presided over the country and its involvement in World War II. Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), was the first president of the 20th century and the first modern president. Roosevelt instituted some progressive reforms while bringing the country as a major world power. Roosevelt was also the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his foreign policy, brokering peace that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

The majority of the top ten presidents are from the 20th century, with only three from 18th and 19th century, with the addition of Thomas Jefferson, (1801–1809) the nation’s third president at number seven. Half of the top ten are presidents from the middle of the 20th century, serving between 1933 and 1969. Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1961) in fifth, Harry Truman (1945–1953) in sixth place, John F. Kennedy (1961–63) in eighth and Lyndon Johnson (1963–1969) in tenth. There was only one president ranked in the top ten from the later part of the century, Ronald Reagan (1981–1989). While three died in office, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy, with Lincoln and Kennedy being assassinated.

Historian Richard Norton Smith, an academic advisor for the survey, commented on this mid-twentieth century golden era in presidential history, “Five presidents from this era each rank in the top ten which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklin Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.”

On the other bottom of the ranking is the presidents usually considered the worst in history and the worst of the worst remains the same. James Buchanan (1857–1861) is again at the bottom of the list, as the president right before the Civil War, historians blame him the most for the dissolution of the Union as sectional divisions eroded and the fragile balance collapsed.

Buchanan was president while slaveholders and anti-slavery fought in bleeding Kansas over slavery in the state, where he supported the proslavery and rigged Lecompton Constitution in 1857 to resolve the issue and allow Kansas to enter as a slave state. During Buchanan’s tenure was the 1857 Supreme Court decision on Missouri slave Dred Scott that determined that slaveholders could maintain their ownership of slaves anywhere in the country invalidating Congress’ attempt since 1820 to contain the expansion of slavery. John Brown’s Harpers Ferry Raid in 1859 was the last straw; the anti-slavery Brown had previously killed “five pro-slavery Kansas settlers” now wanted to raid the “federal arsenal” at Harper’s Ferry and lead a “slave uprising.” After two days of fighting, he was captured, and later that year hung for treason.

In the second to last spot is Buchanan’s predecessor, Franklin Pierce, who signed the ill-fated Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that led to the disintegration under Buchanan’s tenure. The act allowed for popular sovereignty, allowing the state decides whether they would have slavery or be free soil. Historian Steven E. Siry writing in John E. Findling and Frank W. Thackeray’s “Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century” indicated, “No other piece of legislation in American history has produced such immediate and far-reaching changes.” (p. 10)

Andrew Johnson is perpetually in the third to last spot. Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Tennessee, was Lincoln’s Vice President as part of their 1864 Union ticket; he oversaw Reconstruction after the war and subsequently was the first president ever impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson hoped to continued Lincoln’s more lenient plan of Reconstruction, allowing the Southern rebels states back into the Union after taking a loyalty oath, a plan most Republicans in Congress opposed leading them implementing a more radical plan after the midterm election in 1866 filled with military occupations of the Southern states.

Johnson was not one to compromise and has been called “the living incarnation of stubbornness” by historians Findling and Thackeray. (p. 123) Johnson’s constant vetoes that the Republican Congress eventually overrode led them to impeach him. Congress used as grounds that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act for removing his Secretary of War, who supported the radical reconstruction plan. Johnson was acquitted by just one vote in the Senate, affirming the right of a president to disagree with Congress.

Despite the constants in the top and bottom of the list, the greatest interest seems to be the ranking of the latest presidents including the three that successively joined the ranking since CSPAN began their survey in 2000, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now the most recent addition to the former presidents club Barack Obama. Clinton, who presided over the biggest economic boom of the post-war era, but he was also the second president to impeached is seeing his ranking improve since he joined the list in 2000. Clinton began in 2000 at 21st place, but has moved and remained at the 15th position in the last two editions.

Clinton’s good ranking mostly has to do with his economic record, the 1990s job boom, and balancing the budget ending his term with a surplus. Clinton failed primarily in foreign policy by not dealing with the growing terrorist threat that erupted early in his successor’s term and his personal scandals. It was Clinton’s lying to cover up his affair with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which started during the 1995 government shutdown that led to his impeachment mostly because of his perjury in a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against him. Clinton, like Johnson, was able to avoid conviction by being acquitted in the Senate’s trial.

Bush also sees his historical reputation rise, but only slightly, moving up three from 36th place to the 33rd position. Bush united the country in the aftermath of the worst terror attack on American soil in history when on September 11, 2001, radical terrorist group Al-Qaida used planes that hit the Pentagon in Washington, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing over 3,000 Americans.

Bush’s counter attack, initiating over decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, divided the country and mostly resulted in Bush falling out of favor with voters. The unpopular foreign wars coupled with domestic policy mistakes, including the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the worst economic and housing collapse since the Great Depression led to Bush’s low ranking despite being a two-term president with the highest record approval rating from 2001 on record. Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor and C-SPAN historical advisory board member, commented, “The survey is surprisingly good news for George W. Bush, who shot up a few notches.”

After the divisiveness of Bush, Barack Obama came onto the scene, and he was elected in 2008 on a campaign pledge of hope and change. Obama success was most in domestic policy as he remained mired up for years in Bush’s wars in the Middle East before withdrawing all troops later in his presidency. Obama was able to turn the economy around with the help of his stimulus plan passed by a Democratic Congress, but it took six years for any actual recovery. Obama was the first president to succeed and provide health insurance coverage for practically all Americans with his Affordable Care Act, the program known as Obamacare.

Obama however, failed in pursuit of his other goal immigration reform, creating a legal pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants most of whom came from Latin American countries. Legislation in Congress stalled in the Senate, and Obama’s attempts at going it alone in a limited form through executive actions were struck down by the Supreme Court. Obama will be most remembered for his soaring rhetoric, advancement rights for LGBT Americans and being the first African-American president elected in American history.

Still, partisan divisions grew in the country under Obama, who despite promises to unite divided more during his tenure, where he was according to polls the polarizing president in history. His constant wars with the Republican House voted in 2010 and Senate voted in 2014 did nothing to help the partisan divide. Obama was the first black president, however, race relations deteriorated during his tenure, as police violence against Africans Americans rose.

Despite his shortcomings, in his first foray in the presidential ranking, Obama was placed in the generous position of 12th. Obama earned the third spot in the category “equal justice for all” and seventh place “moral authority,” eighth for “economic management” and tenth place for “public persuasion.” Obama’s stature among historians counters his ranking in the public opinion polls where he only ranked ninth out of the twelve postwar presidents based on his term average.

Edna Greene Medford, a Howard University professor and a member of C-SPAN’s historical advisory board thought Obama’s ranking was low, “Although 12th is a respectable overall ranking, one would have thought that former President Obama’s favorable rating when he left office would have translated into a higher ranking in this presidential survey.” Meanwhile, fellow board member Brinkley believes, “That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive.”

As for the survey’s methodology, the historians rated each president with a grade of “one (“not effective”) to ten (“very effective”) scale” on ten attributes, and the average represented their total overall ranking. The attributes consisted of “ten qualities of presidential leadership” which include, “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

The CSPAN “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” was overseen by an academic advisory team which included, Douglas G. Brinkley Professor of History Rice University, Edna Greene Medford, Professor of History Howard University and Richard Norton Smith, Presidential Historian, and Author. The advisory board chose the historians to participate based on those from “a database of C-SPAN’s programming.” In the end, 91 scholars, journalists or authors decided to participate. A problem with the ranking might be the caliber of historians who participated, most are liberal leaning, although there are some that participated are well known and respected, others are barely known, with some notable scholars glaringly absent.

Presidential rankings history dates back nearly 70 years and is a product of the postwar period, but has expanded greatly at the turn of the millennium. The eminent historian and professor at Harvard University Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. conducted the first presidential ranking in 1948; Schlesinger conducted it again in 1962, with the help of 75 historians, while his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. did the third edition of their ranking years later in 1996. Along the way, both colleges and news media have tried their hand at conducting rankings of the presidents aided by presidential scholars.

Among them, include the Chicago Tribune in 1982, Siena College’s Research Institute made their ranking a tradition, publishing it each time after a president left office or ended a term starting in 1982, then 1990, 1994, 2002, and most recently 2010. Sienna College’s ranking often ranked the latest president although they were usually just starting or in their middle of their term, not giving a complete picture or fair ranking. The Wall Street Journal attempted for a fair and unbiased ranking in their two editions conducted in 2000 and 2005 by including an equal amount of liberal and conservative scholars.

Another attempt for balance was William J. Ridings, Jr., and Stuart B. McIver who conducted a poll with 719 scholars, politicians and celebrities between 1988 and 1996. They looked for representations from all states, female historians, and African American historians for their ranking that was published as “Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent.” Recent presidential rankings include, the Times of London conducted one in 2008, the United States Presidency Centre (USPC) at the University of London in 2011, while the American Political Science Association (APSA) produced one in 2015.

Most of the rankings agree that Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt rank in the top three while the bottom consistently includes Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and the scandal-filled Warren G. Harding (1921–23). There have been some differences when conservative scholars are included in the decision-making process.

Wall Street Journal’s polls saw successive Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson ranked lower in 18th and 17th in 2000 and 15th and 18th in 2005, with both receiving their lowest ranking of all surveys, Kennedy in 2000 and Johnson in 2005. Meanwhile, Republican President Ronald Regan saw his status improve with Conservative historians involved; Reagan had his highest showing at eighth in 2000 and sixth in 2005.

The largest partisan divide is with the ranking of George W. Bush; most rankings have near the bottom of the list like C-SPAN despite his two-terms and high poll numbers dealing with the aftermath of 9/1. Liberal scholars view him negatively as WSJ’s 2005 survey indicated ranking him 37th out of 43, while Republicans considered him in the top 10 in sixth place, both suggest that Bush’s usual low ranking may show partisan bias a major flaw in the rankings. Meanwhile, Obama might be ranking higher than he should in his first outing, because liberals consider him a hero not based on his approval ratings, or any historical perspective because he just left office.

In addition to surveys compiled from expert opinions, there have been numerous polls asking the public their view of who was the greatest president, with even more conducting partial polls looking at the recent postwar presidents. CSPAN conducted a full survey in 2000, as did ABC News, Washington College conducted one in 2005, Rasmussen in 2007 and Gallup in 2011. The results differed greatly from those of scholars, usually more recent presidents fared better either entering the top ten or higher up making the top five. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan consistently did better, as did Bill Clinton, even the public had a more favorable regard for George W. Bush than academics.

Quinnipiac University released a partial survey of “the best and worst presidents since World War II” in January. In the top five best presidents were Reagan, Obama, Kennedy, Clinton, Eisenhower, and George W. Bush in sixth out of the twelve presidents. Of the worst, the top five were Nixon, Obama, George W. Bush, Carter and Reagan with Clinton in sixth place.

Presidential rankings have long been controversial even when they are conducted and are the opinions professional scholars, historians and political scientists. One of the largest problems is rankings in the humanities is not a science, the bias of the historians is always problematic, whether it be political as much academics are liberals or even personal based on their area of research.

Presidents and historians alike find the rankings controversial. Lincoln biographer, Harvard professor, and doyen David Herbert Donald recalled Kennedy’s negative opinion of presidential rankings when they met in 1961. Donald recounted, “No one has a right to grade a President-even poor James Buchanan-who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

Historian James MacGregor Burns noted the problems with ranking some presidents with major successes and failures. An example is Richard Nixon, (1969–1974) the only president ever to resign because of the Watergate scandal cover up but made significant inroads in Cold War foreign policy with a détente with the Soviet Union, and opened the door to relations with China. Lyndon Johnson is another, his record with civil and voting rights legislation, his war on poverty with his Great Society program represented highs in his presidency marred by the deepening conflict the Vietnam War, which led him not to run for a second full term. As well as Clinton, who had a scandal-filled presidency, complete with impeachment, but had tremendous approval ratings and success with the economy.

Princeton professor and presidential scholar Julian E. Zelizer, considering his influence in the profession was not one of the participants of C-SPAN’s survey, because of his disapproval of the rankings. Zelizer commented in his 2011 op-ed for CNN “What’s wrong with presidential rankings” lamenting that “rankings don’t tell us much about presidential history. The rankings are weak mechanisms for evaluating what has taken place in the White House.” Zelizer claimed presidential reputations change over time with perspective and context. While there are also problems with the criteria evaluating the presidents, assessing presidents with conflicting records as MacGregor Burns noted, and political bias.

Professor Zelizer is right, presidential; rankings are superficial and do not truly indicate historical greatness, and the complicated decisions each president was faced with at the time, as Kennedy argued to Donald. Academics would do better to recommend thorough biographies of each president for students of history and the public for them to have a more nuanced comprehension of presidential history than participating and promote rankings that are almost always rifled with bias and as Zelizer indicated just make great headlines.

Full overall rankings from CSPAN’s 2017 survey:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
4. Teddy Roosevelt
5. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Harry Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H.W. Bush
21. John Q. Adams
22. Ulysses Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William Taft
25. Gerald Ford
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard Nixon
29. James Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.