Barack Obama has been whisked to a very good table at the club of former presidents, according to a C-SPAN survey of 91 presidential historians published on Friday. Obama’s 12th-place ranking only a month after leaving office is the best for any president since Ronald Reagan, who ranks ninth in the new survey. The list updates previous C-SPAN surveys compiled in 2009 and 2000.
Historians gave Obama high marks for pursuing equality, managing the economy, public persuasion and “moral authority.” On the other hand, he was judged to have been below-average in handling international relations. Overall, he placed ahead of such generally well-regarded chief executives as James Monroe and James Polk.
History’s view of the best and worst presidents was unchanged since 2009. The top spot once again went to Abraham Lincoln — the quintessential self-made man who saved the Union, emancipated the slaves, and launched the Transcontinental Railroad. He ranked no lower than fourth in all ten of the criteria by which presidents were judged. He finished first in crisis leadership, administrative skill, vision setting, and pursuit of equal justice; second in economic management, moral authority, and “performance within the context of the times”; third in public persuasion and international relations; and fourth in working with Congress.
Lincoln was followed by George Washington, with the two Roosevelts — Franklin and Theodore — in third and fourth place. The bottom spots went to the men who served just before and just after Lincoln: James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson.