Clinton seen as the most intelligent president, George W. Bush the least

William JordanUS Elections Editor
July 15, 2014, 1:57 PM GMT+0

Americans are especially likely to think of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan as "very" smart

Recent presidents have all arrived at the White House with impressive academic credentials. In fact, all four of the most recent elected presidents got a degree from either Harvard or Yale, something which none of the previous four had done. However, new research suggests that, when it comes to American presidents, there is no direct correlation between getting a diploma from an Ivy League school and getting a reputation for cleverness.

YouGov asked how intelligent each of the last eight elected presidents were, on a scale from “not at all intelligent” to “very intelligent”. Bill Clinton comes out on top, with 49% considering the Yale Law graduate and Rhodes Scholar “very intelligent”. Another 30% put him in the “somewhat intelligent” category. Nearly as many remember Ronald Reagan as either very (44%) or somewhat (28%) intelligent. Reagan’s only diploma was from Eureka College, a small liberal arts college in Illinois.

By contrast, the only man on the list to have attended both Yale and Harvard, George W. Bush, is considered least intelligent of all. Only 52% say George W. Bush is at least somewhat intelligent. And the same number who say Bush is “not at all intelligent”, 17%, say the same for Barack Obama, another double Ivy League grad (though twice that number think Obama is very intelligent).

This also highlights one difficulty in using the data to compare more or less recent presidents – partisan differences were much more common with the younger Bush and Obama than with the others on the list, although the differences are there to some degree for all eight. The ranking is very different within each political group. Republicans are most likely to consider Reagan very intelligent (67% do), while Democrats’ top pick was a tie between Obama and Clinton (65% each). Clinton was also seen as very intelligent by the largest group (46%) of independents, just ahead of Reagan (43%).

Is it really all that important for a president to be considered intelligent? According to the overwhelming majority of Americans, it is. Eight in ten say it is “very important” for a president to be considered intelligent, even more than say it’s very important to be experienced (69%), inspiring (61%), bold (47%) or funny (12%).

Intelligence is valued less than honesty, however, which 88% of Americans rank as a very important attribute for a president to have.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty