FDR vs. Reagan?

FDR VS. REAGAN?…. What an odd poll from Rasmussen.

It’s a showdown between the two most influential presidents of the 20th Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt versus Ronald W. Reagan.

Forty-five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say FDR, the Democratic father of the big government New Deal who led the country to victory in World War II, was the better president of the two.

But 40% say Reagan, the Republican champion of small-government conservatism and the winner of the Cold War, was a better president. Fifteen percent (15%) aren’t sure which of the two they like better in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

As befits the times, there’s a gender gap — men narrowly preferred Reagan, while women overwhelmingly preferred FDR. Whites were split, while African-American voters backed FDR by more than a two-to-one margin. Dems, liberals, the unmarried, and those who attend worship services less often went with Roosevelt, while Republicans, conservatives, married voters, and evangelicals supported Reagan.

I can appreciate the fact that fawning, sycophantic, and generally embarrassing conservative cheerleading has helped bolster Reagan’s image in the wake of his presidency. I also realize that Reagan, more than any modern leader, is the only GOP figure who’s claimed by every wing of the Republican Party as their own — from New England moderates to Deep South far-right conservatives.

But up against FDR, how is this even a contest? Reagan’s economic policies were largely unsuccessful; propaganda notwithstanding, he was not responsible for winning the Cold War; his White House traded weapons for hostages in Iran-Contra; and no president before or since oversaw a White House filled with so many officials convicted of felonies (32, not including 30 who resigned in disgrace or were fired following charges of legal or ethical misconduct).

I’m not even sure what the Rasmussen poll means by “influential.” JFK inspired millions, Wilson and Truman were extremely consequential, and Nixon and Johnson dominated their political eras.

The poll seems to want to pit Reagan and Roosevelt as some kind of equally-consequential political titans, but I don’t see it. FDR vs. Reagan? This one isn’t even close.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.