About That “Worst President” Poll

I’ve thought a couple of times about writing something on that annoying Quinnipiac poll conservative gabbers are gabbing about that shows Barack Obama eclipsing past bad presidents as the “worst” president. But Sean Trende of RCP did a better job of debunking it than I could, so here’s his take:

A poll from Quinnipiac has been making the rounds of late, with the media focusing in on a question that purportedly shows Americans consider Barack Obama the worst president since World War II (he led all others with 33 percent of the responses). But that is a problematic conclusion to draw from this particular question. First, we could just as easily state that 67 percent of Americans believe that someone other than Obama is the worst postwar president.

More importantly, these sorts of “multiple choice” questions, which pop up from time to time in various contexts, tend to raise eyebrows, because partisan unity can drive the results. And what really drives this particular finding is that Republicans are much more unified in their dislike of Obama than Democrats are in their dislike of any particular GOP president. A full 63 percent of Republicans identify Obama as the worst, with Jimmy Carter lagging far behind at 14 percent, an almost 50-percentage-point differential.

Among Democrats, however, 54 percent name George W. Bush as the worst president, followed by Richard Nixon at 20 percent, a 34-point differential. Had Democrats been able to agree more on their least-favorite president, Obama might not have come in first.

Indeed, if we add up the percentages for all the Democratic and Republican presidents on the list, 49 percent of respondents named a Republican commander-in-chief, while 47 percent of named a Democratic one. (Among Independents, 50 percent named a Democrat, while 43 percent named a Republican, but this probably reflects the disproportionate number of disaffected Republicans who currently consider themselves Independent).

The bottom line is that Republican presidents offer a target-rich environment for ratings of the “worst.” And that shouldn’t be anything for them to brag about.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.