Richard Neustadt began his classic study, Presidential Power (1960), with the observation:
“In the United States we like to ‘rate’ a President. We measure him as ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ and call what we are measuring his ‘leadership’. We do not wait until a man is dead; we rate him from the moment he takes office.”
In the half century that has elapsed since Neustadt wrote these words, systematic presidential rating has become a regular academic exercise, but one effectively monopolized by US scholars. Over the same period, study of and research in US history and politics has expanded dramatically in UK universities. Accordingly, the lack of a UK rating of US presidents is a surprising omission that needed to be put right.
The first UK Survey of US Presidents in 2010-11 accomplished this. Managed by the US Presidency Centre at UCL, it was the first ever UK academic survey to rate US presidents. UK specialists in US history and political studies were asked to assess presidential performance and produced an overall rating on the basis of the responses. They also gave an interim assessment of Barack Obama but his unfinished presidency was not included in the survey.
In 2016, the Presidential History Network, in collaboration with the US Presidency Centre, coordinated a second survey with a view to providing a full assessment of President Obama’s tenure.
The results are in: President Obama ranked at no. 7 – among the top ten and what most surveys consider “near great.”
If you can pull yourself away from the footage of President Trump’s news conference last week, please explore the full set of results on this website. A new series of pages includes the aims of the survey, methodology, full data sets on a range of questions. The survey was conducted by the PHN steering committee and will soon include a full analysis of the results. The analysis will be discussed and debated at a March 8 event at UCL:
Wednesday, 8 March 2017 from 18:00 to 19:30 (GMT)
UCL Archaeology Lecture Theatre
31-34 Gordon Square
WC1H 0PY London
This event brings together the three speakers who were responsible for conducting the survey, and each will explain an aspect of the survey, including an overview of the survey itself, who rated best and worst, how to analyze the results, and an assessment of how Donald Trump is shaping up to compare with his predecessors. They will also discuss the methodology of the survey, whether there is a distinctively British perspective on presidential performance in contrast to an American one, and why presidential rating is such a fascinating exercise.
Anyone with an interest in the USA and its presidents is welcome to attend and can give their own opinions on best/worst/average presidents in the question-and-answer session after the presentations. This is bound to be a lively subject so be sure to register for the event.