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C-SPAN survey of 91 presidential historians ranks Barack Obama 12th best U.S. president in survey of historians — but Lincoln still holds the top spot

February 17, 2017

Time magazine, Feb. 17, 2017 — In today’s issue of Time, reporter David Von Drehle writes: “Barack Obama has been whisked to a very good table at the club of former presidents, according to a C-SPAN survey of 91 presidential historians. Obama’s 12th-place ranking only a month after leaving office is the best for any president since Ronald Reagan, who ranks ninth in the new survey. The list updates previous C-SPAN surveys compiled in 2009 and 2000.”

Von Drehle notes that history’s view of the best and worst presidents was unchanged since 2009, for the top spot once again went to Abraham Lincoln.

[Lincoln is] the quintessential self-made man who saved the Union, emancipated the slaves, and launched the Transcontinental Railroad. He ranked no lower than fourth in all ten of the criteria by which presidents were judged. He finished first in crisis leadership, administrative skill, vision setting, and pursuit of equal justice; second in economic management, moral authority, and “performance within the context of the times”; third in public persuasion and international relations; and fourth in working with Congress.

Lincoln was followed by George Washington, with the two Roosevelts — Franklin and Theodore — in third and fourth place. The bottom spots went to the men who served just before and just after Lincoln: James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson.

“Once again the Big Three are Lincoln, Washington and FDR — as it should be,” said one of the shepherds of the survey, Douglas Brinkley of Rice University in Houston. “That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive,” Brinkley added.

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