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CCU political science faculty member Justin Vaughn collaborates on Presidential Greatness Project survey

February 19, 2024
Coastal Carolina University’s Justin Vaughn, associate professor of political science, has released a new poll through the Presidential Greatness Project.

Coastal Carolina University’s Justin Vaughn, associate professor of political science, and Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, have released a new poll through the Presidential Greatness Project.

Vaughn and Rottinghaus, who are co-directors of the project, conducted the survey in 2015 and 2018 and are releasing new findings in their third survey on Feb. 19, President’s Day 2024. Results are based on nearly 200 responses from scholars across multiple academic disciplines whose work engages presidential politics. The survey shows that while presidential scholars continue to find Abraham Lincoln to be the nation’s greatest, Franklin Delano Roosevelt has passed George Washington as the No. 2 ranked president in history. Joe Biden enters the Presidential Greatness Project survey ranked No. 14, behind recent fellow Democrats Barack Obama (No. 7) and Bill Clinton (No. 12), but ahead of recent Republicans Ronald Reagan (No. 16), George H.W. Bush (No. 19), George W. Bush (No. 32), and Donald Trump (No. 45).

“In the first post-Trump Presidential Greatness Project survey, we see a significant bump for Democratic Party presidents, with each of the recent Democratic presidents moving up in the rankings, while each of the Republican presidents dropped down, with the exception of President Trump himself, who remained steady at the bottom of the rankings,” said Vaughn.

“As presidential scholars reassess the impact of the modern presidency, in terms of the administrative and cultural impact of each president, we see significant shifts over time in what constitutes presidential greatness,” said Rottinghaus.

525 scholars representing a range of academic disciplines were invited to complete the online survey. 191 surveys were completed between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31, 2023, leading to a 36% response rate.

Abraham Lincoln was rated the greatest president, with an average score of 93.9/100 across all respondents, followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (90.8) and George Washington (90.3). The rest of the top 10 were rounded out by: Teddy Roosevelt (78.6), Thomas Jefferson (77.5), Harry Truman (75.3), Barack Obama (73.8), Dwight Eisenhower (73.7), Lyndon Johnson (72.9), and John F. Kennedy (68.4).

While Lincoln has had a strong hold on the No. 1 ranking for quite some time, in recent years Franklin Delano Roosevelt has challenged George Washington for the No. 2 ranking. Roosevelt was not only the longest serving president, but he also pioneered new ways of communicating with the American people through his radio broadcasted “Fireside Chats,” both reassuring and informing them as he led the nation through epic challenges such as the Great Depression and World War II. Unsurprisingly, Roosevelt is also the overwhelming choice of survey respondents when it comes to which president should be the next one added to Mt. Rushmore.

“FDR eclipsing Washington in this survey reflects scholarly consensus about his role as the founder of the modern presidency,” said Vaughn. “While Washington was the first president and established many initial norms and practices of the office, it was Franklin Roosevelt who presided over the great expansion of the presidency, while also leading the nation through the Great Depression and most of World War II.”

Joe Biden’s inaugural inclusion in the Presidential Greatness Project’s series of surveys finds him in the top third of presidents, behind his recent Democratic predecessors but ahead of contemporary Republican presidents. Ranked No. 14 with a rating of 62.7/100, his initial rating is higher than Barack Obama’s first rating in 2015 (58.24) and dramatically different than Donald Trump’s initial rating in 2018 (13.0).

“Scholars often emphasize stability of norms in assessing presidential greatness, so Joe Biden, serving after a tumultuous Trump Administration, entered the survey on a high note,” said Rottinghaus.

Of the living presidents, Obama was rated the highest (No. 7 at 73.8) and Trump the lowest (No. 45 overall with an average rating of 10.9/100). In between were Bill Clinton (No. 12 with 66.4 percent), Joe Biden (No. 14 with 67.3), Jimmy Carter (No. 22 with 54.3), and George W. Bush (No. 32 with 40.4).