Survey: Obama Ranked 15th Best President, Bush 39th

President Obama ranks 15th on a new survey of the best American presidents, slightly higher than any other recent president.

Researchers at Siena College in New York polled 238 presidential scholars, asking them to rate all 43 U.S. presidents in 19 categories—from imagination and integrity to their accomplishments in foreign and domestic policy.

Study director Douglas Lonnstrom says Mr. Obama’s predecessors all started out in the middle range, around number 20.

Siena College has conducted the survey since 1982. It’s always done one year after a new president takes office.

President Obama received high marks for imagination, intelligence and communication, but he scored poorly on family background.

Lonnstrom says many other presidents came from extremely elite families, while Mr. Obama was raised by a single mother and his middle-class grandparents.

Former President George W. Bush entered the survey as number 23 back in 2002. But one year after leaving office, he’s in the bottom five at number 39.

This time, he fared poorly in communication, intelligence, handling the economy and foreign policy accomplishments.

"He just had a terrible time,” says Lonnstrom. “When he left office, the economy was in shambles. He had two wars going on.”

Lonnstrom points out that presidential rankings tend to shift over time for those in the middle of the pack.

But at the top of the list, the same five presidents have had a lock on the first five spots since the survey began.

Franklin D. Roosevelt has been number one every time. This year he’s followed by his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt, then Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

It’s the first time Teddy Roosevelt has ranked second, overtaking Lincoln who held that spot for 20 years.

Since the last survey in 2002, Bill Clinton moved up from number 18 to 13th. Ronald Reagan dropped two places from 16th to 18th, and Jimmy Carter fell from 25th to 32nd.

The bottom five presidents have consistently included Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce. Johnson was ranked at the very bottom this year.