Earlier this year, members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section – 170 scholars, in total – ranked each of the American presidents from best to worst. Barack Obama did quite well, ranking 8th overall, and 1st among presidents over the last half-century.
As it turns out, public attitudes are largely in line with scholars’ attitudes. The Pew Research Center published an interesting report on this yesterday:
When asked which president has done the best job in their lifetimes, more Americans name Barack Obama than any other president. More than four-in-ten (44%) say Obama is the best or second best president of their lifetimes, compared with about a third who mention Bill Clinton (33%) or Ronald Reagan (32%).
When it comes to first-place votes – presidents who were picked as the very best president of respondents’ lifetimes – Obama was the clear winner with 31%, followed by Reagan with 21%, and Clinton with 13%.
There was, however, a significant age gap: Obama dominated among younger Americans, while Reagan fared better among older Americans.
One of the things I like about this poll is that it offers some variety for partisans: for every age group, there’s more than one Democrat and more than one Republican to choose from. That said, it’s fair to say Reagan and Obama have taken on iconic qualities among members of their respective parties.