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Presidents: Most Under- and Overrated

March 2023
1min read

Professor of history emeritus, Yale University

It may seem odd to think of Jimmy Carter as the most underrated figure until one recalls how low his rating fell (to 26 percent in the polls) and then thinks of the policies largely responsible for his low rating: hostage recovery, terrorist negotiations, and relations with Iran, with other Middle East countries, and with Central America. In all of these areas Carter deserves higher ratings than his successor in the White House. And yet Ronald Reagan’s rating, even during the worst of his disgraces so far, never fell nearly so low as Carter’s. Of course, it started higher—perhaps overly high.

That is not to say that Reagan is awarded the distinction of being the most overrated. It may be premature to do so at this juncture. It will take years to calculate the impact of his disasters on future generations. As things now stand, however, his position as front-runner seems fairly secure. A study entitled Responses of the Presidents to Charges of Misconduct (1974) prepared by the present writer at the request of the counsel for the House Judiciary Committee for the impeachment hearings on President Nixon examines the records of all of Reagan’s thirty-eight predecessors with the exception of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. None of them would seem to offer serious competition to the present incumbent for claim to the title of most overrated.


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