Presidents' Day Poll: Lincoln Seen as Best President, Reagan as Best Since World War II

Republicans and Democrats have very different opinions of Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and Kennedy

12:30 PM EST Feb 22, 2017 Rating
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Presidents' Day Poll: Lincoln Seen as Best President, Reagan as Best Since World War II

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As the nation continues to celebrate our Presidents by commemorating Presidents’ Day and the birth of President George Washington, pluralities of Americans see President Abraham Lincoln as the best president ever and President Ronald Reagan as the best president since World War II. 

A new Harris Poll also finds that attitudes to more recent presidents are highly polarized by party, with Democrats having much more positive attitudes to Presidents Kennedy, Clinton and Obama, and Republicans having much more positive attitudes to President Reagan. When asked who they think was the worst president since World War II, a plurality which includes half of all Republicans name President Barack Obama, followed by Presidents George W. Bush and Nixon.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,319 U.S. adults ages 18+ surveyed online between January 24 and February 3, 2017.

Best and Worst Presidents since World War II

When asked who the best president was since World War II, the largest proportion of Americans (25%), including 51% of Republicans, choose Ronald Reagan. He is followed by presidents John F. Kennedy (16%), Franklin D. Roosevelt (16%) and Barack Obama (15%). 

When asked to choose the worst president since World War II, the largest number (24%), including 50% of Republicans, pick Barack Obama, followed by presidents George W. Bush (16%) and Richard Nixon (16%).

These perceptions of more modern presidents - like so many other attitudes today - are highly polarized by party, and the more recent the president, the more polarized the opinions. The percentages of each party who see the following as the best presidents are: 

 

Almost a quarter (24%) of Democrats see George W. Bush as the worst president, compared to only 5% of Republicans. Nearly half of all Republicans (48%) think Barack Obama was the worst president, compared to 7% of Democrats.

Best President ever

When it comes to picking the best president in the history of the United States, no one president receives 20% or more of the vote. President Lincoln (19%) tops the list, followed by presidents Obama (15%, including 30% of Democrats), Washington (14%), Reagan (13%), Kennedy (8%) and Franklin Roosevelt (7%).

Those polled were also asked to pick their second choice. When those who chose a president as their first or second choice are added together, the rank order is more or less the same, with Lincoln (31%) topping the list, followed by Obama (26%), Reagan (24%), Kennedy (19%), Washington (18%), Clinton (14%) and Franklin Roosevelt (12%).  

No other president received more than 5% of the vote.  With the exceptions of presidents Washington and Lincoln, very few Americans picked any presidents before World War II.


TABLE 1

BEST PRESIDENT SINCE WORLD WAR II

“Looking at the list of presidents since World War II, which one do you think is the best president?”

Base: All adults

 

Jan
2008

Jan
2010

Jan
2012

Jan
2017

Party ID

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Ronald Reagan

25

25

25

25

51

6

25

John Kennedy

15

14

15

16

9

21

16

Franklin Roosevelt

21

22

19

16

10

19

18

Barack Obama

NA

4

4

15

3

29

11

Bill Clinton

11

11

12

6

1

9

5

Dwight Eisenhower

4

4

4

3

5

2

2

Harry Truman

4

4

4

3

3

3

4

George W. Bush

2

1

2

2

4

1

1

George H.W. Bush

1

1

1

1

3

1

*

Jimmy Carter

3

2

2

1

1

1

2

Richard Nixon

2

1

1

1

1

*

1

Lyndon Johnson

1

2

1

*

*

1

*

Gerald Ford

1

*

1

*

1

*

-

Not sure

10

9

10

11

8

7

14

Note: Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Note: * indicates less than 0.5%

 

TABLE 2

WORST PRESIDENT SINCE WORLD WAR II

Looking at the list of presidents since World War II, which one do you think was the worst president?

Base: All adults

 

Jan
2008

Jan
2010

Jan
2012

Jan
2017

Party ID

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Barack Obama

NA

15

22

24

48

7

22

George W. Bush

34

31

27

16

5

24

18

Richard Nixon

10

10

12

16

8

25

12

Bill Clinton

17

6

5

8

9

7

6

Ronald Reagan

3

3

4

5

4

5

5

Jimmy Carter

13

10

5

5

3

3

9

George H.W. Bush

2

3

4

4

3

6

3

John Kennedy

2

3

2

3

3

3

3

Gerald Ford

1

1

1

2

2

3

1

Lyndon Johnson

3

2

2

2

2

2

1

Harry Truman

*

1

2

1

1

1

*

Dwight Eisenhower

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Franklin Roosevelt

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Not sure

13

10

12

14

10

11

17

Note: Totals may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Note: * indicates less than 0.5%

 


TABLE 3

BEST PRESIDENTS IN HISTORY

Which one of the following presidents do you think was the best president in our history and which one was second best?

Base: All adults

 

Best or Second Best

Best

Second Best

Jan
2008

Jan
2010

Jan
2012

Jan
2017

%

%

%

%

%

%

Abraham Lincoln

33

32

32

31

19

12

Barack Obama

NA

9

8

26

15

11

Ronald Reagan

25

25

26

24

13

12

John Kennedy

22

17

21

19

8

11

George Washington

18

19

21

18

14

4

Bill Clinton

17

17

19

14

5

9

Franklin Roosevelt

22

22

17

12

7

5

Theodore Roosevelt

6

6

5

5

2

3

Thomas Jefferson

8

7

6

5

2

3

George W. Bush

5

4

5

5

1

4

George H.W. Bush

2

2

2

4

1

4

Dwight Eisenhower

4

5

4

3

1

2

Jimmy Carter

3

3

3

3

1

2

Harry Truman

6

4

5

3

1

2

Richard Nixon

3

2

2

1

*

1

John Adams

1

2

2

1

*

1

Andrew Jackson

1

1

1

1

*

1

Lyndon Johnson

1

1

1

1

*

1

Woodrow Wilson

*

*

*

1

*

*

Calvin Coolidge

*

*

*

1

*

*

Gerald Ford

1

1

*

*

*

*

Not sure

9

9

12

9

9

12

Note:  Totals for best and second best may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Note:  In this question the list included all presidents since Franklin Roosevelt and the other presidents in the table, but not any other presidents

Note: * indicates less than 0.5%

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 24 and February 3, 2017 among 2,319 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #7, February 22, 2017

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman Emeritus, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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