Just in time for President’s Day, Gallup is out with a new survey finding that a plurality of Americans identify Ronald Reagan as the greatest U.S. president. While I’m happy to see the Gipper get his due, looking at the list, something else disturbs me:
If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that there are only 17 presidents identified by name — yet the list also includes 11 of the 12 most recent presidents. Bill Clinton is just a hair behind Abe Lincoln, and bests George Washington (as does JFK). In just two years in office, as many people identified Barack Obama as the greatest as did Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson combined. Jimmy Carter even gets a nod. Poor Gerald Ford stands as the odd man out in terms of modern presidents.
Yet the overall pattern suggests that unfortunately, many Americans lack knowledge of their own history, and tend to simply name the presidents they’ve heard of.