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Best Presidents for National Party Popularity


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Here are the presidents ranked in order of best for national party popularity, which is probably the key party leadership trait one can have. 

Here's how the ranking was done:

  • Popular vote margin against major party opponent in presidential election(s)
  • Popular vote margin for their US House members in general and midterm elections as a whole. I use only the US House because every member is up for a vote nationwide.
  • Popular vote margin for pres and House elections for an incumbent not running for reelection (term limit or otherwise). This is their "exit score." A strong leader would see their popularity carry over to their successor. 

I add or subtract the margins of their popularity on whether or not their party was more or less popular than the other party during that election. 

Best Presidents for National Party Popularity:

  1. Lyndon B. Johnson (D) +41.0
    1. One would think his exit popularity would have been bad, but his party's popularity was basically even with the GOP. Humphrey got killed in the EC, but he was about even with Nixon in the PV. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House were more popular than Republicans. This helps strengthen the argument that had LBJ jumped back in the race, secured nomination at Convention, that he likely would have beaten Nixon. Humphrey was a far weaker candidate than LBJ. We have to remember that Nixon had been defeated in 1960 for pres and in 1962 for Gov of CA. He wasn't particularly a strong candidate either. He's Landslide Lyndon for party popularity. He hit homers in 1964, 1966, and was hardly tarnished in 1968 and in fact saw his party more popular than the GOP by 1% when combining pres election and house election PVs. 
  2. Jimmy Carter (D) +17.6
    1. Surprise! I didn't expect this either. Carter was personally unpopular going into his reelection bid, but he helped his party maintain a huge popular advantage for his party in the House during midterms, and left office with Democrats still more popular than the GOP in the House. His score is greatly helped by Watergate fallout, which was much more beneficial to him than the Reagan Revolution was hurtful to him. In fact, his House Score is close to LBJ's house score.
  3. Bill Clinton (D) +12.2
    1. Personally popular, but he actually has a negative House score and a zero for his exit score. 
  4. Barack Obama (D) +10.3
    1. Similar to Clinton's situation. Obama has a negative House score, but he has a slight positive exit score because Clinton was more popular than Trump among the American people, despite losing the EC.
  5. Joe Biden (D) +4.5
    1. This is clearly subject to change. Biden was clearly more popular among Americans than Trump. He's also helped by mild midterm loses than didn't erase his House victories in 2020. Biden, unlike Obama and Clinton has a positive score for House, so far. 
  6. Ronald Reagan (R) -0.6
    1. Reagan has a tremendous personal popularity, but it did almost nothing to helps his party members in the US House. His +27.9 pts for his presidential election is the best among ANY president on this list. However, his party in the House was more unpopular than Reagan was popular. Reagan also gets a zero exit score as Bush's PV is erased by an equal PV support for House Democrats--both 7.7% margin. Iran-Contra hurt him bad. 
  7. Richard Nixon (R) -8.9
    1. Aside from his PV in 1972, Nixon's leadership of the GOP looks pretty bad. As state above, his 1968 margins were slim. His exit score is awful amid Watergate. 
  8. George W. Bush (R) -17.0
    1. He is mostly hurt by appauling exit scores because of growing opposition to war and because of the Great Recession. He is strongest in his first midterm. 
  9. Donald Trump (R) -17.2
    1. Only Jimmy Carter has worse personal popularity (pres PV). Unlike Carter, Trump's House score is in the negatives. Trump is the most routinely unpopular president, if you discount Ford, who didn't serve a full term. 
  10. George HW Bush (R) -18.3
    1. Bush has among the worst House scores. It's better than Reagan and Ford's but it's about twice as bad as Trump's. 
  11. Gerald Ford (R) -32.3
    1. His hampered by being an accidental president. He lost his only election. The only midterms he presides over were Watergate reactions. He saw a second House landslide against him as he was leaving office. He never had a chance and couldn't turn popular support for his party. 

The most interesting thing about this exercise is that EVERY Democrat has been a better leader for his national party than EVERY Republican. For the most party, popular presidents--such as Reagan--have failed to convert Americans to vote for his party downballot. They were a leader of their image but not of the party's image. 

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