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Rating Recent Presidents

Date: 9/9/2010

Rating Recent Presidents

Clinton's hot, Carter's not and Bush is below average - or are they?

Will history judge that Bill Clinton was an above average president, superior to Ronald Regan and Jimmy Carter? Will future text books declare that George H. Bush was a failure, while George W. Bush was a graded a solid C? Well, it seems that all depends on whether the historian involved was a liberal or conservative.

It is a timeless dilemma; deciding who to believe in the presidential ranking game. The reality is that the differences between conservative and liberal historians affect almost every way in which a president might be evaluated and then perceived by the public.

Dr. Tim Blessing, professor of history and political science at Alvernia University has examined the impact of partisan and ideological attitudes on historians' evaluations of five recent presidents. He presented his findings at the American Political Science Association Convention, Saturday, Sept. 4, in Washington, D.C.

Along with Dr. Di You, assistant professor of Psychology, Alvernia University, and Dr. Anne Skleder, provost and professor of Psychology, Cabrini College, Blessing created a survey to measure 256 historians' rankings of these presidents, as well as historians' ratings of their actions, policies and personal characteristics.

During his presentation Partisan and Ideological Effects on Raters' Perceptions of United States Presidents: Extending the Murray-Blessing Surveys, he compared the ratings of Carter, Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, and, in some instances, Bush (43).

On a scale of great, near great, above average, average, below average and failure, Liberals rated Carter and Reagan as being tied in the bottom of the average range and the senior Bush well-down in the below average category. They also rated Clinton as an above average president, a full category above Reagan and Carter.

Conservative historians, on the other hand, ranked Reagan as a near-great president, while placing Carter right on the border of failure and below average. For them, Clinton teeters between an average or below average president. The younger Bush was placed in the middle of the Average category.

"One of the things we noticed immediately was the fact that not only did conservative historians and liberal historians reach different conclusions, they did it in different ways," said Blessing.

The findings also included judgments of personal characteristics and motives in their surveys. They found that the lower a historian rated a president, the lower they rated his personal characteristics including decisiveness, character, determination and honesty.

"Our respondents," noted Blessing, "linked partisan and ideological views that they did not like with negative judgments of a president as an individual. "The influences of partisanship and ideology were not just confined to the presidents. The researchers found the same types of impacts on judgments of Supreme Court justices and Secretaries of States, military actions, relationships with the press, presidential abuses of power, and a broad range of other issues.

The researchers found that the liberal/conservative division stretched well back in time, influencing judgments on actions such as Grover Cleveland's reaction to the Pullman railroad strike; Herbert Hoover's response to the Bonus Army march on the Capital; and even back into the early days of the republic as liberals and conservatives disagreed on John Adam's 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.

  • History: Established as a private four-year liberal arts college in 1958, Alvernia celebrated its 50th year by being awarded university status in 2008.
  • Heritage: Founded by the Bernardine Sisters, a Catholic religious order, the university embraces the Franciscan core values of service, humility, collegiality, contemplation and peacemaking.
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