C-SPAN’s ranking of U.S. presidents was analyzed to develop a new order focusing solely on those who served two terms. This list placed Lincoln, Washington, the Roosevelts, and Eisenhower in the top five positions. At the bottom of the list, Nixon was ranked last, positioned just below George W. Bush.
The 21 Presidents
Though there have been 45 men to complete presidencies, only 21 have been reelected to serve for a second term. Additionally, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only person to have served for both third and fourth terms; he died while in office in 1945.
The 22nd Amendment
In 1947, an amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress limiting presidents to serving for just two four-year terms. This was ratified by the states in 1951.
Second Term Presidents
Reelection for a second term reflects a president’s personal performance as well as the current political climate of a given period. Second terms have often gone on to make or break a president’s legacy, with many leaving office far less popular than they were post-reelection.
Behind the Data
Academics gave scores to presidents out of 100 in ten different categories: political persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, congressional relations, vision/ability to set an agenda, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of the times.
Creating the Ranking
For each category, a mean was generated out of all the responses and rounded to one decimal place. The averages were then added up to give a president’s total score out of 1000. A total of 142 people completed the survey.
Nixon’s Watergate Legacy
In last place out of 21 contenders was Richard Nixon, with a score of 464. Nixon famously resigned over the Watergate scandal, in which break-ins to the Democratic National Committee headquarters were known and covered up by the former president. He scored particularly low on the ‘moral authority’ front, with just 21.7 out of 100.
Bush Is Just Above Nixon
Second to last was George W. Bush, who didn’t manage a score higher than 55 in any category (even Nixon got 68.7 for international relations due to his diplomatic efforts in the Vietnam and Cold Wars.) He scored 495 overall, and his legacy is largely tainted by his instigation of the Iraq War, as well as his record on Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and the economy.
Clinton Finishes In the Bottom Half
Bill Clinton finished at 15th, scoring 594. Though he had an average of more than 70 for both political persuasion and economic management, his moral authority score was just 30, likely due to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky that resulted in his impeachment and overshadowed his presidential accomplishments.
Obama Makes Top Ten
Barack Obama came in at number nine, with an overall score of 664, with individual scores over 75 for political persuasion, moral authority, and pursued justice for all. Though some of his foreign policy was controversial, the introduction of Obamacare was felt to have improved the lives of millions of Americans, and his charismatic, eloquent speeches made him a role model to many.
Reagan Has a Mixed Legacy
Ronald Reagan just beat Obama, landing in eighth place, having scored 89 in political persuasion and 84 in vision/ability to set an agenda. Though he was praised for helping end the Cold War, many people look back at him less fondly for his handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the Iran-Contra Affair. His total score was 681.
Jefferson and Truman Miss Top Five
Thomas Jefferson was seventh with 704 points but is largely known today for enslaving over 600 people despite claiming privately to be against slavery; he later had Congress pass legislation prohibiting the African slave trade. Just missing out on the top-five spot was Harry S. Truman, with a score of 713, including an 80 in crisis management for leading the US out of the Second World War.
Eisenhower Is Remembered Well
Fifth was Dwight Eisenhower, who is remembered well for creating the National Highway System and for his pro-civil rights stance. The 34th president, who scored 734 points, also presided for the duration of the Korean War.
The Roosevelts Are In 3 and 4
Fourth placer Theodore Roosevelt remained popular more than 100 years after his presidency, earning 785 points overall, including a 90 for political persuasion. Rounding out the top three with 841 points was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served for 12 years, overseeing the Great Depression and World War II. His New Deal policies were credited with restoring the US to prosperity.
Lincoln Takes the Top Spot
Runner-up George Washington — the USA’s first-ever president — scored 851 points. But Abraham Lincoln was deemed the greatest two-term president of all time, with a score of 897, gaining over 90 points in half of the categories. He is most famously known for ending the Civil War and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved people free, before being assassinated one month into his second term.
The Internet Reacts
The internet had a lot to say about the ranking, with many positions proving controversial. Obama and Reagan, in particular, were considered too high by many forum users. “I suffered through eight years of Reagan BS,” one commenter wrote. “He needs to go way down the list.”
“Reagan literally committed high treason,” another poster declared, whereas someone else said, “The more I learn about Reagan the more I become his #1 hater. He does not belong anywhere near the top.” Obama also had his fair share of critics, with one user stating, “Obama is ridiculous. Let me get some of what C-SPAN’s having.”
A Questionable List
“Obama wasn’t a bad president but top 10 is a bit much is it not?” one contributor asked. Someone else concurred, “Obama is always overrated in these things. I think a big part of it is that he was sandwiched between two terrible presidents, so it makes people remember him as being better than he was.”