Decades after the Roosevelts dominated the national stage, opinions of them are very positive, even among their erstwhile opponents
Americans, for the most part, are fans of the Roosevelts – if not necessarily of the Ken Burns 7-part documentary about the family, but at least of the two Presidents, and the First Lady who made a name for herself independently of her husband. Time heals many political wounds: even member of each former President’s opposing party holds positive images. Republicans like Franklin and Eleanor, Democrats like Teddy.
Hardly any Americans hold unfavorable views of any of the three Roosevelts. There is some residual dislike for the New Deal Roosevelts among a minority Republicans. Fewer than one in five Republicans hold unfavorable views of either of them. And as for T.R., Republicans and Democrats hold similar positive views.
These uniformly positive assessments of political figures from the past suggest time heals memories. These days, partisans tend to take completely opposing views of Presidents from the opposite party.
When it comes to rating tenure in office compared with other Presidents, party comes back into play, however. For 61% of Republicans, it is another Republican, Ronald Reagan, who is the “greatest President since 1900.” Far behind him, but in second place, is Democrat FDR, at 9%. Republican TR ties for third with Democrat John F. Kennedy, at 7%.
Democrats cross party lines hardly at all. JFK only narrowly edges out Bill Clinton, FDR is in third place, and Barack Obama is fourth when it comes to Democrats’ opinions of who was the greatest President.
When asked specifically about the greatness of Franklin and Theodore, most of those with opinions, both Democrats and Republicans, say each Roosevelt as great or near great.
What Americans like about Presidents is not necessarily their success getting bills through Congress; instead, it is their ability to inspire. Twice as many say the latter is more important than the former.
And all of the men who rank well on the greatness scale are known for just that – their ability to move people with oratory.
What do Americans like about the Roosevelts? For both Roosevelt Presidents, inspiration ranks high among the words those who like them associate with them. They are also seen as great leaders. Being tough and strong is particularly important in the assessment of Theodore Roosevelt.
But perhaps Franklin’s First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is the most likely of the Roosevelts to inspire. And while Americans use many of the same words as they do to describe her, and they do the two Presidents Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt also gets credit for compassion and caring.
The relative few with unfavorable views of the Roosevelts tend to focus on policy differences, and for New Deal Democrats FDR and Eleanor, that often means they are seen as liberal or even socialist by those who dislike them.
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.