James Buchanan

President James Buchanan

Even more than 150 years after his term, former President James Buchanan continues to do poorly in the polls.

Last week C-SPAN released the results of their 2021 Presidential Historians Survey – and Buchanan remained in dead last.

The survey, which features 142 historians (dozens more historians were added this year to include a wider perspective of race, gender, age, and philosophy) ranking the 44 previous U.S. presidents in a number of categories to determine an average score, is conducted when there is a change in administration.

Participating historians ranked the presidents in 10 categories, which are then averaged to determine the rankings. The criteria are: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursuit of equal justice for all and performance within the context of the times.

The top and the bottom of the list has remained unchanged since the C-SPAN started ranking the presidents in 2000 with former President Abraham Lincoln at the No. 1 spot and Lancaster’s Buchanan bringing up the rear at No. 44. (Two 2018 polls, the Siena College’s Presidential Expert Poll and the Presidential Greatness Survey, held a slightly more favorable view of the 15th president, ranking him as only the second worst president ever to hold office.)

Buchanan, who held the office from 1857-1861, scored best in the international relations category and worst in the crisis leadership category. Buchanan also scored especially low in the moral authority, vision/ setting an agenda and pursuit of equal justice for all categories. Many historians feel Buchanan completely failed to steer the nation away from civil war.

Former President Trump came in at No. 41 ahead of former Presidents Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. Trump is ranked immediately behind former President William Henry Harrison, who only served for 31 days.

There is some evidence, though, that distance seems to change how recent presidents are viewed: former President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush have both seen their rankings improve over time.

The next C-SPAN poll will take place when President Joe Biden leaves the office.

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