Siena Research Institute, housed at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, recently released its presidential expert poll. The SRI press release explains the methodology used:
The Siena College Research Institute (SRI) Survey of U.S. Presidents is based on responses from 238 presidential scholars, historians and political scientists that responded via mail or web to an invitation to participate. Respondents ranked each of 43 presidents on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on each of twenty presidential attributes, abilities and accomplishments. Overall rankings were computed by assigning equal weight to each of those twenty categories.
Previous polls were taken in 1982, 1990, 1994, and 2002. The complete list of ranked categories can be found at the link above.
The 2010 poll finds four Early Republic presidents holding down the 4-7 spots in the top-10: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. James K. Polk is in 12th place, just ahead of Bill Clinton, while Andrew Jackson is 14th, followed by Barack Obama. John Adams (17), John Quincy Adams (19), Martin Van Buren (23), Zachary Taylor (33), William Henry Harrison (35), John Tyler (37), Millard Fillmore (38), Franklin Pierce (40), and James Buchanan (43) are the other Early Republic presidents.
Personally, I don’t find these polls very relevant, but they make great fodder for conversation. I find it funny every time one of these polls ranks W.H. Harrison anywhere above last. A presidential administration of one month seems like it should receive an automatic last-place finish. Other rankings are puzzling as well. Jefferson was a brilliant thinker, but a top-10 president?! Madison and Monroe also weren’t top-10 presidential material. I would have moved Polk into the top-10 over any of those three; a successful one-term president trumps a mediocre two-term president in my book. The rest probably deserve their rankings, although I’m surprised Van Buren wasn’t ranked lower.