A new study from Pew Research Center has found the 44th US President is considered the best national leader of their lifetime by 31% of respondents.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on July 12, 2018

More than 2,000 US citizens were surveyed in the study. When both first and second choices were considered, Obama was the clear leader with 44% of votes, ahead of Bill Clinton (33%) and Ronald Reagan (32%).

The survey was conducted from 5 to 12 June 5 2018. Participants were asked the open-ended question: “Which president has done the best job during your lifetime?” They were asked to name both their first and second choices. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 2.6 points.

Trump lagged far behind the most favoured presidents with 19% of first and second place votes although sitting presidents have tended to fare relatively badly in such polls.

The voting was split along generational lines; 62% of millennials considered Obama the best or second best president while members of the baby boomer generation (now aged between 54 and 72) named Reagan as their favourite president.

Gen X survey respondents (aged 38-53) also favoured Reagan, with 45% of this demographic naming him in their top two. Obama (41%) and Clinton (39%) were the next most popular by this measure.

While voting was inevitably divided along partisan lines, 13% of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans felt Obama was the best president.

Obama’s enduring popularity

Obama’s stature seems to be only growing since he left office in 2017. In a 2011 instalment of the same survey, he had less than half his current support at 20%.

While the choices are necessarily limited by the age of the survey respondents, one former US president is defying demographics with his ongoing popularity: John F. Kennedy, who has 12% of first and second choice votes, more than the four presidents who succeeded him (Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter) combined. Around a quarter of survey participants who were alive for the Kennedy presidency voted for him.

New York magazine said the popularity of Obama and Clinton and low figures for the two most recent Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W Bush, who drew 14% and 10% of first and second place votes respectively, raises an intriguing question of why the Democratic party has not capitalised on the popularity of its presidents more effectively.

Barack Obama has been relatively low-key since leaving office. Michelle Obama has consistently polled well as a hypothetical candidate for the 2020 US Presidency race, but has said she has no interest in running.