The eve of the presidential elections seems like a good time to review the list of 15 most successful presidents of all time. But, how does one go about determining who they are? There are plenty of studies dealing with the subject, all using their own methodology and ranking presidents on issues they deemed important. Most of them are either limited in scope, for instance, this Gallup poll, which only ranked modern presidents or simply outdated, and are missing one or more latest presidents. Some of them are expert studies, while other deal with public opinions. For obvious reasons, we decided to focus on polls conducted among presidential scholars and historians. For instance, in this Gallup poll Ronald Reagan was named the greatest president ever. This conflicts heavily with our perception of reality, so we decided to ignore it. This didn’t earn us many favors among the Republicans in Insider Monkey offices, but in a lucky turn of event, the outright rebellion was averted when they learned that Reagan has made the cut. Perhaps they should consider other celebrities who should run for president for their next endorsement?
We settled for the combination of two studies that are both recent enough and not limited in any way. The first study we looked at is Sienna Research Institute’s one. It is an expert study, where 238 presidential scholars ranked presidents on following categories: background, party leadership, communication ability, relations with Congress, court appointments, handling of economy, luck, ability to compromise, willing to take risks, executive appointments, overall ability, imagination, domestic accomplishments, integrity, executive ability, foreign policy, accomplishments, leadership ability, intelligence, avoid crucial mistakes, and experts’ view. SRI has been conducting these studies periodically since 1982, and it is very interesting comparing results from different years and seeing how presidents’ changed in different time frames.
The other study we used to rank most successful presidents of all time was conducted by the Brookings Institution in 2015. Members of the American Political Science Association were asked to rank the presidents on traits like personal integrity, military skill, diplomatic skill, and legislative skill. The lists are pretty similar, and there are only three names that appear on either list in top 15 that didn’t make it on our unified list, President Obama being one of them (John Adams and James K. Polk are other two). Obama ranked 18th and 15th on the SRI list and the Brookings list respectively, which was enough for the 18th place on our list. Let’s see who made the cut among the best US presidents in history.