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New Survey of Scholars Finds Lincoln Remains America’s Greatest President

FDR Passes Washington for #2, Biden in Top 15

By Bryan Luhn 713-743-0954

Mount Rushmore

A new poll of experts on the American presidency reveals several intriguing new findings, including a shakeup among the top-ranked presidents and an early assessment of where President Joe Biden stands.

This is the third survey conducted by co-directors of the Presidential Greatness Project, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus and Coastal Carolina University political science professor Justin Vaughn. Results are based on nearly 200 responses from scholars across multiple disciplines whose work engages presidential politics.

The survey shows that while presidential scholars continue to consider Abraham Lincoln the nation’s greatest president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt has passed George Washington as the second-greatest president. President Biden enters the rankings at #14, behind recent Democrats Barack Obama (#7) and Bill Clinton (#12), but ahead of recent Republicans Ronald Reagan (#16), George H.W. Bush (#19), George W. Bush (#32) and Donald Trump (#45).

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

Previous surveys were released in 2015 and 2018.

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

About President Franklin D. Roosevelt:

While Abraham Lincoln has held the top spot for quite some time, FDR has been challenging Washington for the #2 ranking and overtook him this year. Roosevelt, our nation’s longest-serving president, pioneered new ways of communicating with the American people through his Fireside Chats as he led the country through the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt is also the overwhelming choice of survey respondents on which president should be the next one added to Mount Rushmore.

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

About President Joe Biden:

President Biden’s inaugural inclusion in the Presidential Greatness Project rankings finds him in the top third of presidents, ranked #14 with a rating of 62.7/100 which is higher than Obama’s first rating in 2015 (58.2) and dramatically higher than Trump’s first 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,” Rottinghaus said.

About Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Jackson:

Most presidential ratings have maintained consistency over the three surveys, but in some cases, changes in rankings over time capture evolving historical assessment of individual presidents. Two presidents in particular have seen their reputations and rankings change significantly: Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Jackson.

Grant has gradually climbed the rankings from #28 in the first survey in 2015, to #21 in 2018 and now #17 in 2024. This upward trend reflects the broader reputational rehabilitation seen in recent historical examinations of his life and leadership. On the other hand, Jackson has consistently fallen in the rankings, from #9 in 2015, to #18 in 2018, to #21 in the 2024 survey, due largely to negative historical assessments increasingly focused on his dismal record on Native Americans.

Other Key Findings:

Lincoln was rated the greatest president with an average score of 93.9/100, followed by FDR (90.8), Washington (90.3), Theodore Roosevelt (78.6), Thomas Jefferson (77.5), Harry Truman (75.3), Obama (73.8), Dwight Eisenhower (73.7), Lyndon Johnson (72.9) and John F. Kennedy (68.4).

  • Trump was again the lowest-ranked president (10.9) with James Buchanan (16.7), Andrew Johnson (21.6), Franklin Pierce (24.6) and William Henry Harrison (26.1) rounding out the bottom five.
  • FDR (65.4%) was the top choice for which president should be put on Mount Rushmore next, followed by Obama (11%) and Eisenhower, Kennedy and James Madison (4%).
About the Survey:

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

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