The most and least popular US presidents, according to Americans

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
July 27, 2021, 1:52 PM UTC

YouGov ranks all US presidents according to how the US public feels about them

The respective excellence of US presidents is always being debated. Many academics have put together rankings over the years to demonstrate who they think is best, and in one famous case the features of one person’s top four have been carved into a mountain.

But how do the leaders of the nation rank in terms of public opinion? A new YouGov poll has asked Americans their view on the 45 men who have served as president to date.

Abraham Lincoln is the most popular US president

Topping the list is Abraham Lincoln. Eight in ten Americans (80%) have a favorable view of the president who freed the slaves and won the Civil War, including 56% who have a “very favorable” view of him.

In a perhaps surprise second place – if going by combined very+somewhat favorable ratings – is John F. Kennedy, whom 73% of Americans have a favorable view opinion of. This puts him three points ahead of the more traditional runner-up George Washington (70%), who places third on this measure (although the scores are within the margin of error). It is worth noting that fewer people have a “very” favorable view of Kennedy: 35% to Washington’s 44%.

Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson complete the top five, both being seen favorably by 62% of Americans.

Overall, ten presidents are popular with a majority of Americans. Aside from the aforementioned top five, this includes Dwight Eisenhower (58%), Franklin D. Roosevelt (58%), Barack Obama (54%), Ronald Reagan (54%) and Harry Truman (51%, although note this is within the margin of error of being less than a majority).

Joe Biden currently scores 47% on this measure, making him 11th overall. His predecessor Donald Trump lands much further down on the list, scoring 39% and ranking 20th.

Richard Nixon is the most unpopular US president

There are only two presidents who are currently seen unfavorably by a majority of Americans: Richard Nixon (56%) and Donald Trump (54%). More Americans take a “very” negative view of Trump (47% to Nixon’s 34%), although he is also popular among a wider group: 39% like Donald Trump compared to 27% for Nixon.

Most popular US presidents among Democrats

Barack Obama proves to be the most popular president among Democrats, with 89% having a positive opinion of him. His former vice president Joe Biden comes close behind at 87%, with JFK coming third at 82%.

Despite topping the rankings among all other groups, Abraham Lincoln is only the fourth most popular president among Democrats, at 77%. He is followed by FDR with 72%. Father of the nation George Washington ranks eighth, at 67%.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump proves to be the least popular president among Democrats. Only 8% have a positive opinion of the 45th president, while 88% have a negative one.

Most popular US presidents among Independents

Rankings among Independents mirror those of the US public as a whole. Lincoln tops the list, at 78%, with Kennedy in second with 66% and Washington third at 64%. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt both score 56%, putting them fourth and fifth respectively.

There are two candidates for least popular president among Independents: Joe Biden and Richard Nixon. Biden is the president that the most Independents say they dislike (53%, vs 35% who like him), but Nixon has the lowest ‘net’ favorability score, i.e. the biggest gap between the number of people who dislike him (in this case 50%) vs the number who list him (27%). This make’s Nixon’s net favorability score -23 to Biden’s -18.

Most popular US presidents among Republicans

As with the general public, Abraham Lincoln is the favored president of Republicans, with 86% having a positive view of Honest Abe. Ronald Reagan is close behind, at 85%, followed in quick succession by George Washington (84%).

The most recent Republican president, Donald Trump, comes fourth, with 79% taking a favorable stance towards him, putting him just ahead of Thomas Jefferson (78%).

He may only have been in office six months, but Joe Biden proves to be Republicans’ least favorite president. Only 11% give him a positive review, compared to 83% who give him a negative one. Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, gets similarly dismal scores, with 13% of Republicans having a favorable view of Obama and 82% an unfavorable one.

Chester A. Arthur is America’s most forgotten president

The average American isn’t a historian, so it is not surprising that many don’t know enough about the former commanders-in-chief to be able to give a view. For 20 of the 46 presidents, fewer than half of Americans have an opinion of them.

The large majority have nonetheless at least heard of these historical figures, even if they don’t know much about them. But there are some presidents whose names are unfamiliar to a large proportion of the population.

Chester A. Arthur has the dubious honor of topping the list, being completely unknown to one in four Americans (27%). Arthur was the 21st president, serving from 1881-85, and had a largely uneventful time in office – his main achievement involved reforming the civil service.

Other widely unknown presidents include John Tyler and Millard Fillmore (both 21%) and Franklin Pierce, Martin van Buren, and Zachary Taylor (all 18%).

See the toplines and crosstabs from this YouGov Daily poll