Special Report

The Most (and Least) Effective US Presidents, According to Historians

Time is growing short for Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States and the longest-lived former chief executive in the nation’s history. With the 98-year-old Carter now in hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia., it’s worth taking a look at where he ranks among the nation’s presidents – and which other former chief executives are ranked lower or higher. (These are the stories behind the deaths of 39 American presidents.)

To rank the best and worst presidents in US history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed C-SPAN’s 2021 Presidential Historians Survey. For the survey, 142 historians and professors as well as other professional observers of the presidency scored each president in 10 categories, ranging from economic and crisis management to international relations to relationship with Congress. Each category was given equal weighting to arrive at each president’s total score. Survey responses are tabulated by averaging all responses in each category for each president. Joe Biden is not included because he had been in office for only a few months when the survey was conducted.

Based on the C-SPAN survey, Jimmy Carter is ranked 26th out of 45 pre-Biden presidents. Carter’s ranking among his White House peers was hurt by his performance in economic management, crisis leadership, public persuasion, relationship with Congress, and administration skills. His standing is buoyed by higher ratings in pursuing equal justice for all and moral authority.

Click here to read about the most (and least) effective U.S. presidents, according to historians

Carter’s one-term presidency (1977-1981) was hurt by economic stagnation, an energy crisis, the Iran hostage affair, his inability to persuade a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass his policies, and failure to inspire the nation. Historians gave Carter higher grades for his advocacy of human rights, and for appointing more minorities and women to the federal bench, improving relations with Latin American countries, and helping forge the 1978 peace accord between Israel and Egypt. (Can you solve these real “Jeopardy!” clues about U.S. presidents?)

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