ABSTRACT

The partisan divide in presidential evaluations is more extreme today than at any time in the past half-century. Partisan bias in the evaluation of presidents is even more pronounced among political elites and partisan pundits. Republicans routinely charged that Obama was “the worst president ever.”3 The same tag was frequently used by Democrats to describe George W. Bush, although most Democrats would now reserve that label for Trump. The problem of fairly evaluating presidents is not only a problem of partisanship, however. The presidential ratings game began in earnest in 1948, when Arthur Schlesinger asked 55 prominent historians to grade the presidents: A signified Great; B, Near Great; C, Average; D, Below Average; and F, Failure. Over the past half-century there have been many efforts to update and improve upon Schlesinger’s methodology. The most dramatic shifts in historical reputations, though, have tended to come with presidents who have only recently left office.