Alex Massie

The Most Under-Rated US Presidents

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If the race to be considered the Most Over-Rated President in American history was won at a canter by Ronald Wilson Reagan, there was a much keener contest to earn the title Most Under-Rated president. No fewer than 36 of the 42 men to have held the post received votes in this ballot.

As before, ballots were scored on a 3,2,1 points system (three for most under-rated etc). If no order of preference was specified, each nominee was awarded 2 points. The results are given thus: total number of points collected, followed, in brackets, by each man's ranking in the Wall Street Journal's 2005 survey of historians.

THE MOST UNDER-RATED PRESIDENTS

1. 49 (8) Dwight Eisenhower

2. 44 (34) Jimmy Carter

3. 42 (9) James Polk

4. 39 (18) Lyndon B Johnson

5. 37 (23) Calvin Coolidge

6. 36 (32) Richard Nixon

7. 26 (21) George HW Bush

8. 21 (29) Ulysses S Grant

9. 17 (39) Warren Harding

10. 16 (12) Grover Cleveland

Others:11. 15 (7) Harry Truman, 12. 13 (13) John Adams, 13. 11 (25) John Quincey Adams, 14. 10 (6) Ronald Reagan, 14. 10 (19) George W Bush, 16. 9 (26) Chester Arthur, 16. 9 (11) Woodrow Wilson, 16. 9 (28) Gerald Ford, 19. 8 (3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 19. 8 (16) James Monroe, 21. 7 (2) Abraham Lincoln, 21. 7 (4) Thomas Jefferson, 23. 6 (1) George Washington, 23. 6  (17) James Madison, 25. 5 (37) Andrew Johnson, 26. 4. (N/A*) William H Harrison , 26. 4 (15) John F Kennedy, 26. 4 (20) William Howard Taft, 29. 3 (14) William McKinley, 29. 3 (33) Zachary Taylor, 29. 3  (35) John Tyler, 29. 3 (10) Andrew Jackson, 29. 3 (22) Bill Clinton, 34. 2 (5) Theodore Roosevelt, 35. 1 (27) Martin Van Buren, 35. 1 (N/A*) James Garfield.

*=not included in the 2005 WSJ survey.

Subtracting a Presidents' ranking in this poll from their place in the WSJ survey provides an alternative measurement of under-ratedness. The resulting number then, obviously, represents the divergence between our findings and those of the professionals. The higher the number, the more under-rated the President. By this ranking system the most over-looked Chief Executives are:

1. Jimmy Carter 32

2. Warren Harding 30

3. Richard Nixon 26

4. Ulysses S Grant 21

5. Calvin Coolidge 18

James Polk's new rating of 6 (9-3!) then means that by this measurement he's also actually one of the less under-rated under-rated Presidents. Equally, Eisenhower's score of 7 suggests he's actually rather less under-rated than voters think he is.

My favourite verdict, however, was delivered upon William H Harrison of whom one voter said, "If only more Presidents could have followed his example."

Other notes: non-Americans were especially likely to consider LBJ under-rated, while Nixon and Carter each drew notable levels of bipartisan reappraisal.

Once again, many thanks to all who participated.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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