Watson chimes in on the nation’s greatest and worst presidents

“I was shocked to see Lincoln dethroned as America’s number one leader,” said Watson.

Published Aug. 30, 2010

Robert Watson, professor of American Studies in Lynn University’s College of Liberal Education, was one of approximately 200 experts from across the nation polled for the July 2010 American presidents ranking by the Siena Research Institute.

This poll, the 5th presidential ranking by Siena over the past three decades, placed the following presidents (listed as ranked) in the top 10 category: FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Wilson, Truman and Eisenhower, whereas George W. Bush, Pierce, Harding, Buchanan and Andrew Johnson were rated as “failures” at the bottom of the poll.

According to the polls, of the 43 U.S. presidents, President Barak Obama was ranked as number 15 – receiving high scores on imagination, communication and intelligence, but scoring poorly on background. George W. Bush fell from his ranking as number 23 in 2002 to number 39.

Watson identified several reasons why this poll was particularly interesting:
  • In addition to overall rankings, it breaks out several categories (smartest, domestic achievements, Cabinet/staffing, among others).
  • There is a very preliminary effort to consider where George W. Bush, Clinton and even Obama may end up.
  • In polls such as this, there is usually little movement in the top 10, but this time Lincoln, Washington, and Truman all fell 1-3 slots.

Robert WatsonFollowing the release of the poll, Watson was "shocked" to see that Lincoln was dethroned as America’s number one leader. “Honest Abe has topped the rankings ever since the first experts poll was completed in 1948,” said Watson. “For me, Lincoln’s enduring legacy in American politics, the vital role he fulfilled in the American experiment of popular government and his example as a prophet for equality and rights put him at number one.”

Watson speculates that Lincoln could have lost his number one ranking last year following the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth. “The occasion was celebrated with numerous public and scholarly events,” said Watson. “So it is possible that scholars found fault in Lincoln during the bicentennial reassessment that warranted his new ranking.”

According to Watson, presidential ranking polls began in 1948 with historian Arthur Schlesinger, and since the 1980s, a new poll has been commissioned approximately every three years or so.

More on Watson:

Watson is one of the foremost experts and authors on first ladies, presidents, and Florida politics and voting issues – from the 2000 “butterfly ballot” debacle to the latest recount mishap in Palm Beach County. Watson has published more than 30 books on American politics and history.

In this role, Watson is frequently interviewed by local and national TV, print and radio media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, USA Today and The New York Times, addressing topics surrounding the first ladies of today, yesterday and tomorrow, how history may judge former President Bush (and the war on terrorism), how past White House scandals have not affected the nation, and the accomplishments and criticisms of President Obama.