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The Contemporary Presidency Explaining Presidential Greatness: The Roles of Peace and Prosperity?


Irwin L. Morris is a professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research spans the fields of American politics, public policy, and political economy.

Jill L. Curry is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland. Along with the presidency, her research focuses on U.S. political institutions.


Research on presidential greatness has a long history in the study of the American presidency. A prominent aspect of this literature is the study of presidential ratings generated from surveys of both experts and average Americans. A considerable body of research suggests that a relatively small number of factors—such as time in office, intellectual brilliance, and whether a president was assassinated—explain a great deal of the variation in the ratings. However, this list of variables includes no indicators of policy performance. We propose two such measures—one focusing on economic outcomes and one focusing on the outcomes of military conflict—and provide rationales for the hypothesized relationships between these measures of policy performance and presidential ratings. We find evidence of a substantial relationship between economic policy success and presidential ratings. However, there is no evidence of a relationship between foreign policy success and presidential ratings.