Americans’ Favorite and Least-Favorite Presidents

Apparently the Republican presidential hopefuls are onto something when they try to position themselves as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In a Harris Poll that gave Americans a list of presidents dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and asked them to pick the best and worst, Reagan had the top “best” vote (25 percent of the total). The only other presidents whose “best” votes reached double digits were Roosevelt (21 percent), John Kennedy (15 percent) and Bill Clinton (11 percent).

George W. Bush won a strong plurality of the “worst” vote, at 34 percent. Also in double digits in this category were Clinton (17 percent), Jimmy Carter (13 percent) and Richard Nixon (10 percent). If you subtract each president’s “worst” vote from his “best” tally, Reagan has the highest net-positive score, at +22. FDR is close behind, at +20. The current Bush has the poorest net-negative score, at -32, with Jimmy Carter (-10) a distant runner-up for this dubious honor.

Offering a broader list that dates back to George Washington, the same poll asked respondents to say who they think is the best president in U.S. history. Abraham Lincoln topped the voting here, with 20 percent, followed by Reagan (14 percent), FDR (12 percent) and Washington (12 percent). Despite all the free publicity he gets from having his image on the nickel (and a monument in Washington, D.C.), Thomas Jefferson got just 4 percent of the vote, leaving him behind Bill Clinton, who got 7 percent.