Survey Ranks Obama 15th Best President, Bush Among Worst

Former President George W. Bush is in the bottom 5.

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President Obama ranks 15th out of 44 in a poll of the best and worst presidents while former President George W. Bush earns a place in the bottom five, according to the Siena College Research Institute's recent survey of 238 presidential scholars released Thursday. [See a slide show of the 10 Worst Presidents.]

Obama secured a top ten place in two skill set categories, communication ability (7th) and ability to compromise (10th), and in two personality trait categories, imagination (6th) and intelligence (8th). Background, described as family, education, and experience, proved his lowest score at 32nd.

This is the 5th time the institute has conducted the survey of U.S. presidents, which is done a year after a new president takes office. The inaugural survey in 1982 ranked then-President Ronald Reagan at 16th. "Obviously, there's not great validity to it since they've only been in office for one year," says the survey's co-director and statistician Douglas Lonnstrom. "But it's a benchmark for us to see how they move." [Take our poll: Who is the worst president?]

President tend to rank around 20th while they are in office, and Obama is no exception. His actions over the next few years will decide if he stays roughly the same like Reagan—who moved from 16th to 20th, 22nd, 16th again, and finally to 18th this year—or like Bush, who fell a dramatic 16 slots in the first poll after he left office, from 23rd to 39th.

Bush made the top twenty in only two categories, luck (18th) and willingness to take risks (19th), and he sits in the bottom five in 12 of the 20 categories, notably 42nd in intelligence, foreign policy accomplishments, and communication ability. Lonnstrom points out the unpopular former president has time on his side, explaining it takes four or five decades to know a president's true worth. "Right now there's a lot of emotion about Bush," he says. "Time passes and people become more objective, and so we'll see."

Franklin D. Roosevelt has held his title as top president since 1982 with the same four following to round out the consistent top five: Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

Joining Bush in the bottom five this year are Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson, who is at the very bottom for the second year in a row.

The survey, which ranks presidents using 20 different factors, shows Jefferson was the most intelligent president, Richard Nixon was the worst at integrity and avoiding crucial mistakes, Lincoln had the best overall ability, and Washington was the best leader.

Here's the full list*:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt

2. Theodore Roosevelt

3. Abraham Lincoln

4. George Washington

5. Thomas Jefferson

6. James Madison

7. James Monroe

8. Woodrow Wilson

9. Harry Truman

10. Dwight D. Eisenhower

11. John F. Kennedy

12. James K. Polk

13. William Clinton

14. Andrew Jackson

15. Barack Obama

16. Lyndon B. Johnson

17. John Adams

18. Ronald Reagan

19. John Quincy Adams

20. Grover Cleveland

21. William McKinley

22. George H. W. Bush

23. Martin Van Buren

24. William Howard Taft

25. Chester Arthur

26. Ulysses S. Grant

27. James Garfield

28. Gerald Ford

29. Calvin Coolidge

30. Richard Nixon

31. Rutherford B. Hayes

32. James Carter

33. Zachary Taylor

34. Benjamin Harrison

35. William Henry Harrison

36. Herbert Hoover

37. John Tyler

38. Millard Fillmore

39. George W. Bush

40. Franklin Pierce

41. Warren G. Harding

42. James Buchanan

43. Andrew Johnson

*There are only 43 ranking slots since Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president; he left the White House only to return four years later for his second term.