A plurality of Americans think Barack Obama the best or second-best president of their lifetime, buoyed by his being the overwhelming favorite among Millennials.
According to the Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday, Mr. Obama was named one of the two best presidents by 44 percent of respondents overall, comfortably ahead of Bill Clinton in second place (33 percent) and Ronald Reagan in third (32 percent).
There was a substantial recency effect and generational gaps though.
Mr. Obama was by far the favorite of Millennials, which Pew defined as ages 22-37, or born 1981-96, being named the absolute best by a near-majority (46 percent) and in the top two by 62 percent. Among that age group, Mr. Clinton was the favorite or second choice among 47 percent and none of the four other presidents of that group’s lifetime (all Republicans) were named by more than 20 percent.
However every group older than the Millennials — Generation X (ages 38-53); the Baby Boomers (54-72) and the Silent Generation (73-90) — named Reagan their favorite or second-favorite in the Pew survey, although Mr. Obama was still the best-performing Democrat by most measures.
Reagan was among the top two for 45 percent of Generation X, 42 percent of Boomers and 38 percent of the Silent Generation, and was named the single best more often than any other president for all three groups. But among Millennials, many of whom would have few or no memory of him, he was the second least-favorite, ahead only of his vice president, George H.W. Bush.
As polarizing as he is, President Trump managed to place fourth overall, being named among the top two by 19 percent overall, and with not nearly as much generational swing as other recent presidents — 19 percent among Milennials, 15 percent among X’ers, 21 percent of Boomers and 19 percent of the Silent Generation.
According to Pew, that 19 percent overall figure “is comparable with the share who viewed Obama as one of the best presidents in 2011 (20%).”
Of the presidents before Jimmy Carter, all but John F. Kennedy were named in the top two by just 1 percent or 2 percent of respondents. But Kennedy was the runaway choice of that era, named in the top two by 12 percent overall.
People who voted for (or against) Carter in 1976 would now be at least 60 years old in 2018, an age that would make them just kindergartners — with few memories and fewer politically sophisticated ones — at the time of the Kennedy assassination.
The survey was conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults and had an error margin of 2.6 percentage points.
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