A recent YouGov survey asked Americans about six former U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), and John F. Kennedy (JFK). Majorities of Americans feel favorably toward each of the six presidents, and a similar proportion believes each of them would be likely to win a presidential election if they ran today. However, Americans are divided on which party Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson — the earliest of the six presidents — would belong to if they were active in modern politics.
Of the six presidents included in the survey, Lincoln is most likely to be thought of favorably by Americans (84% view him strongly or somewhat favorably), followed by JFK (79%) and Washington (79%). FDR (67%) is thought of favorably by the fewest Americans. Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats and Independents to hold favorable opinions of presidents who were members of the Republican Party, some other party, or no party. For example, 81% of Republicans but only 70% of Democrats and Independents feel favorably toward Jefferson, who co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party.
Republicans are no more likely than other Americans to feel favorably toward presidents from the Democratic Party. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents feel similarly favorably toward JFK, and more Republicans (26%) than Independents (16%) and Democrats (13%) feel very or somewhat unfavorably toward FDR.
Black Americans feel less favorably than white and Hispanic Americans toward Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and FDR. For example, Black Americans are more likely to feel very or somewhat unfavorably about Washington and Jefferson (22% and 25%) than Hispanic (14% and 15%) and white (11% and 12%) Americans. (Washington and Jefferson both enslaved Black people.)
Similar proportions of Black (74%), Hispanic (82%), and white (88%) Americans feel favorably toward Lincoln, and of the six presidents included in the survey, he has the highest favorability among all three groups. However, while Washington (83%) has the second highest favorability among white Americans, JFK has the second highest favorability among Black (71%) and Hispanic (77%) Americans. For each of the six presidents polled about, Black Americans are more likely than white or Hispanic Americans to be unsure about him.
When asked which political party each of the six presidents belonged to when active in politics, most Americans (65%) correctly say that JFK was a Democrat. Half of Americans (50%) correctly say that FDR was a Democrat, and almost half (46%) correctly say Lincoln was a Republican. However, only 31% correctly say that Roosevelt was a Republican, while another 43% are not sure. Similar proportions of Americans are unsure about Jefferson’s (45%) and Washington’s (39%) parties.
A majority of Americans (60%) think that JFK would still belong to the Democratic Party if he were active in politics today, and about half (49%) think the same about FDR. However, Americans are divided over whether Lincoln would belong to the Democratic (34%) or Republican (36%) Party if he were active in modern politics. About one-third of Americans think Washington would be a Republican if he were around today, while another 20% think he would be a Democrat, and 15% do not think he would belong to a party.
A majority of Americans think that if each of the six presidents included in the survey were running for president today, they would be very or somewhat likely to win. Americans are most confident that JFK (75%) and Lincoln (68%) would be likely to win a presidential election today. Americans are least confident that Jefferson could win a modern election, with 56% saying he would be likely to win and 23% saying such an outcome is very or somewhat unlikely.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think that presidents who belonged to the Republican Party, some other party, or no party could win a modern presidential election. For example, while 56% of Democrats think Washington would be likely to win, 68% of Republicans think the same. Similar proportions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents think that JFK and FDR would be likely to win a modern election.
— Andrew Farmer, Taylor Orth, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article
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Methodology: The YouGov poll was conducted online on July 19 - 25, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. For both polls, the sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample also was weighted by baseline party identification, which is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
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