Get access

The Presidential Ranking Game: Critical Review and Some New Discoveries


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am grateful to Tim Blessing, Bruce Buchanan, Jeffrey Cohen, Douglas Lonnstrom, Daron Shaw, Dean Stanton, and Jeffrey Tulis for their encouragement and assistance, as well as to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. For comments on various drafts of this article, I would like to thank Dave Bridge, Pat Flavin, and David Nichols.

Curt Nichols is an associate professor of political science at Baylor University. He is the coauthor of Exploiting the Opportunity for Reconstructive Leadership (with Adam Myers). His work also appears in Polity and Armed Forces and Society.


This study provides critical analysis of ranking surveys, leading to regression analysis that provides fresh insight into the factors that structure presidential rating scores. Results demonstrate that rating scores can be predicted with relative ease. Furthermore, new measures are found to be significant—two operationalizing the latest extension of Stephen Skowronek's “political time” thesis and one controlling for cultural level preferences favoring “progressive” presidents. This suggests that expert evaluators take note of presidential performance within context. It also suggests that experts of all political stripes are influenced by the milieu in which their evaluation takes place. In the end, while no claim is made that the popular expert surveys used in this study provide a true measure of presidential greatness, it is argued that ranking polls may tell us more than critics admit.