Debates about the uses of presidential ratings raise important questions about the accuracy of grouping leaders into single categories. Categories serve to identify some common features within a group, but they also mask important differences, which may distinguish a person significantly from others in the same category. The small number of presidents may make the value of subdividing them minimal, especially given the range of qualities by which we evaluate presidential leadership. Depending on the criteria used, a president may move sharply up or down in the survey -- presidents such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, both of whom faced scandals in their administrations but also had notable policy achievements, are good examples. Yet rating presidents continues to be a favorite pastime of scholars and journalists, and new surveys always spark heated discussion about why the rankings of certain presidents have changed from previous surveys.
This new and timely volume summarizes the debates and assesses the uses of presidential ratings in light of those discussions. While presidential ratings surveys do generalize presidential performance and cannot capture all of a president’s qualities, they nevertheless provide important guidelines for comparing presidential successes and failures. Furthermore, the consistency across surveys suggests greater agreement about many presidents than typically is recognized in discussion of individual cases.