C-SPAN Asks Two U of A Faculty Members to Rank U.S. Presidents

March 15, 2017

Bob Maranto, left, and Randall Woods
Bob Maranto, left, and Randall Woods

C-SPAN recently asked presidential historians, including two at the University of Arkansas, to rank U.S. presidents for a survey released in advance of the federal Presidents Day holiday.

Bob Maranto and Randall Woods both participated in the last survey as well as this newest one, and said they enjoyed the experience.

However, Maranto said just because he participated before does not mean he ranked all the presidents the same this time around.

"For one thing, I didn't save my rankings so I don't remember where exactly I put everyone," he said. "For another, the passage of time and events in history lead to re-conceptualizing of where they rank."

Long after their terms end, U.S. presidents may continue to change in the public's esteem, Maranto said. He holds the Twenty-First Century Chair in Educational Leadership in the College of Education and Health Professions. Although he works in the education field now, Maranto's early career focused on civil service, politics and government.

"My dissertation in the 1980s was on the history of presidential political appointments," he said. "During the first 15 years of my career, most of my published research was about the presidency. I served in the U.S. executive branch of government in the 1990s, which affected my scholarship considerably in terms of what questions I ask and how I interpret the data."

Randall Woods, who is a distinguished professor of history in the university's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, ranked the presidents for C-SPAN, too.

"This is also my second survey," Woods said. "There were no dramatic changes in my rankings, although I am part of the anti-Andrew Jackson movement."

Woods, who is also the John A. Cooper Professor of History in Fulbright College, is the author of two critically acclaimed books about President Lyndon B. Johnson - LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006) and Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, the Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism (2016). For the past five years, he has been conducting research for a biography of John Quincy Adams, Jackson's nemesis.

"Along with other presidential scholars, I have come to see Jackson as a political opportunist willing to play to the nation's deep divisions over issues like slavery, Indian removal and an activist federal government rather than trying to heal them," he said.

Woods said he was also a bit surprised at Bill Clinton and Lyndon B. Johnson's mid-level rankings.

"Johnson's resurgence continues, although the Vietnam War will probably freeze him where he is," Woods said.

As in C-SPAN's first two surveys, released in 2000 and 2009, Abraham Lincoln received top billing among the historians, according to a C-SPAN news release. George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt retained their top five status, while Dwight Eisenhower moved into the top five for the first time.

Former President Barack Obama entered the ranks for the first time in the No. 12 position. His leadership category ratings ranged from No. 3 for "Pursued Equal Justice for All," to No. 39 for "Relations with Congress." His predecessor, George W. Bush, benefitted somewhat from the passing of years: His ranking at No. 33 was up three places from the 2009 survey. Bill Clinton remained unchanged at No. 15.

The biggest presidential loser from the C-SPAN 2009 survey was Andrew Jackson, who was No. 13 in 2009, and who now stands at No. 18 overall. The survey results can be viewed on the C-SPAN website.

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