Evaluating Presidential Performance

February 13, 1976

Report Outline
1976 Effects of Recent Reappraisals
Past Views of the Presidential Role
Evaluation of Presidential Candidates
Special Focus

1976 Effects of Recent Reappraisals

Significance of Evaluation in This Election Year

As the gears of another presidential campaign begin to grind in earnest, American voters start to formulate their ideas as to what makes a person fit for the most powerful elective post in the world. In their final decision, the candidate's political views and positions on various issues will be important. Just as important, however, will be the voters' views as to how the candidate's performance in office is likely to compare with that of his predecessors.

Evaluations of presidential performance are rarely constant, and the closer the performance is to our own day the more likely it is that current evaluations will change. “Whoever, in writing modern history, shall follow truth too near at the heels, it may haply strike out all his teeth,” Sir Walter Raleigh warned in 1614. In writing about Presidents this is a special danger, for the office is surrounded by an aura of quasi-religious sentimentality and respect. When a President appears successful, he becomes an idol; when his efforts fail, or if he proves incapable of living up to the presidential image, he is vilified.

Trying to judge a President's performance is also difficult because, in the words of historian Bert Cochran, “The modern presidency is not primarily a machine for self-expression.…[A President] is part of an intricate governmental and extra-governmental machinery so that what he is and is not able to do is more dependent on circumstances, contingencies, and interactions than on personal exercises of will and assertions.” At the same time, the fact remains that who the President is at any given time can make a profound difference in the nation's life

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Executive Powers and the Presidency
Feb. 24, 2006  Presidential Power
Nov. 15, 2002  Presidential Power
Feb. 02, 2001  The Bush Presidency
Jun. 20, 1997  Line-Item Veto
Jun. 14, 1996  First Ladies
Oct. 21, 1988  Dangers in Presidential Transitions
Jun. 10, 1988  The Quandary of Being Vice President
Jan. 06, 1984  Presidential Advisory Commissions
Jul. 28, 1978  Presidential Popularity
Feb. 13, 1976  Evaluating Presidential Performance
Dec. 12, 1975  Presidential Protection
Jul. 11, 1973  Presidential Reorganization
Mar. 07, 1973  Presidential Accountability
Sep. 24, 1971  Presidential Diplomacy
Nov. 11, 1970  Vice Presidency
Oct. 02, 1968  Presidential Power
Mar. 14, 1966  War Powers of the President
Nov. 23, 1960  Transfer of Executive Power
Apr. 04, 1956  Vice Presidency
Oct. 15, 1952  Change of Presidents
Jun. 09, 1950  President and Mid-Term Elections
Oct. 20, 1948  Federal Patronage
Mar. 24, 1948  The South and the Presidency
Dec. 05, 1947  Military Leaders and the Presidency
Apr. 16, 1947  Veto Power of the President
Sep. 20, 1945  Succession to the Presidency
Sep. 12, 1940  The War Powers of the President
Feb. 11, 1938  Emergency Powers of the President
Jan. 06, 1938  The Power to Declare War
Dec. 28, 1937  Extension of the Veto Power
Dec. 28, 1936  Limitation of the President's Tenure
Mar. 12, 1935  The President and the Congress
Dec. 16, 1932  The Veto Power of the President
May 28, 1931  Presidential Commissions
Oct. 23, 1928  Presidential Appointments and the Senate
Mar. 21, 1928  Business Conditions in Presidential Years
Jan. 20, 1927  The Monroe Doctrine
Mar. 18, 1925  The President's Power of Appointment
Sep. 10, 1923  The President's Position on Patronage
Campaigns and Elections
Powers and History of the Presidency