Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Presidents Day Poll- what does the youth of american think about....

(In honor of President's day which was two days ago.)

On Presidents Day last year I had my classes fill out a form saying who they thought was the best, second best, third best, and worst president. I gave them a list and asked them to just mark 1,2,3 (for best, second best, third best) , BAD (for worst) on it. I omitted Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton from the list since they are too recent. So, what does the youth of America think? Or at least the youth taking Honors Discrete Math or Automata theory?

Here is the list or presidents ranked by roughly how well they did. (Some are not included since they did not get any voters pos or neg.) I (somewhat arbitrarily) gave 3 points for each ONE, 2 points for each TWO, 1 point for each THREE and -3 points for each BAD. Are these the best weights to use? Is there a way of arguing which weights are best? This is a variant of a standard voting problem. The standard problem does not include the option of BAD for negative points. I don't think there is an optimal answer. Weights that would NOT be good to use would make the ONES's get a lot more than the TWO's since I suspect this gap was not so large in peoples minds. Or I could have had THEM give point values between (say) 1 to 100 for the ONE, TWO, THREE and between -1 and -100 for the BAD. Maybe I'll do that next year.
  1. Abraham Lincoln: 15 ones, 10 twos, 10 threes: 75 points.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt: 8 ones, 8 twos, 4 three: 44 points.
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt: 11 ones, 7 twos, 7 threes, one B: 51 points.
  4. George Washington: 7 ones, 4 twos, 8 threes, one B: 34 points.
  5. Thomas Jefferson: 6 ones, 5 twos, 5 threes: 33 points
  6. Dwight Eisenhower: 1 one, 3 twos, 5 threes: 14 points.
  7. John F Kennedy: 2 ones, 5 twos, 6 ones, 1 B: 14 points.
  8. Woodrow Wilson: 1 one, 1 two, 3 threes: 10 points.
  9. Harry S Truman: 2 twos. 6 points.
  10. James Polk: 1 one, 1 two: 5 points.
  11. John Adams: one 1, one 2, one B: 4 points.
  12. William Henry Harrison: one 1: 3 points.
  13. Lyndon B. Johnson: one 2, one 3, one B: 2 points.
  14. Andrew Jackson: 2 ones, 1 two, 2 B's: 2 points.
  15. Ulysses S. Grant: 1 two, 2 B's: -4 points.
  16. Zachery Taylor, Rutherford B Hayes, Chester Arthur, Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding, Gerald Ford: 1 B: -3 points.
  18. James Buchanan, William Taft: 2 B's: -6 points.
  19. Ronald Reagan: 1 one, 3 twos, one 3, 8 B's: -12 points. CORRECTOIN ADDED LATER: SHOULD BE -14. ARITHMETIC MISTAKE. RELATIVE ORDER UNCHANGED.
  20. Herbert Hoover: 5 B's: -15 points.
  21. George Bush: 6 B's: -18 points.
  22. Richard Nixon: 1 one, 1 two, 10 B's: -25 points.
My thoughts
  1. I thought George Washington would do better.
  2. I'm surprised that Theodore Roosevelt did so well. Bart Simpsons likes him, though Lisa Simpson prefers FDR (From the episode Bart stops and smells the Roosevelt's.
  3. The person who ranked Hayes as the worst president of all time either knows much more about the Hayes administration then I do or was just putting things down at random.
  4. The vote for William Henry Harrison was a joke- the guy who voted for WHH is named Henry and liked that his first name was WHH's middle name.
  5. Dwight Eisenhower did better than I thought he would.
  6. Richard Nixon did worse than I thought he would. I thought today's youth didn't know about Watergate. George McGovern (who Nixon beat in 1972 and is still alive) recently said that if he had won in 1972 then Nixon's legacy would be much better (going to China, Detente with Russia, EPA, Okay on Civil Rights.) Nixon would be considered a left wing democrat today.
  7. George Bush did so bad that I think people may have confused him with his son W.
  8. Some of my opinion: (1) I rank George Washington first since the very act of STEPPING DOWN after two terms set the tone for peaceful transitions of power. Note that young democracies today the most important election is the one where the person in power has to voluntarily step down. (2) For worst prez I wouldn't call someone BAD just because I happen to disagree with their policies. It has to be someone who (in contrast to Washington) did things that undermine our democracy. Two that come to mind are Nixon (Watergate) and John Adams. (Alien and Sedition Acts). George W Bush (Patriot Act) might also qualify but its too early to tell. Other wartime restrictions on freedom (happened in many wars) might also qualify. The corruption of the Grant and Harding's administration were deplorable but I don't think they rise to the level of undermining our democracy. There are probably other presidents who qualify for this honor but not being an expert on Presidents, I don't know who they are.
  9. In the book Hail to the Chiefs (a humorous though mostly accurate look at the presidents) in the first edition she said that Buchanan and Andrew Johnson were not looked upon kindly by historians, which is true. In the second edition she made the points many times with many presidents (including those two) that how well you do is VERY MUCH a matter of timing, luck, and History. To paraphrase Buchanan couldn't stop the Civil War. By that point nobody could. Andrew Johnson had to reunite the country and deal with the South after the Civil War. That's pretty hard too. I agree that there are many thing outside a presidents control, and they some blame or praise may be unwarranted.


  1. I would give Andrew Jackson a demerit for ignoring a Supreme Court decision and subsequently orchestrating the Trail of Tears.

  2. Washington's Birthday was celebrated two days ago in the US. That is the federal holiday. Even though it never actually falls ON his birthday (which is today). Even when there was talk of making it more generic officially, it was just to combine Lincoln and Washington.

  3. I don't think it's that Buchanan failed to prevent the Civil War. I mean, Lincoln failed to prevent it too, but he's considered one of the greatest presidents. Buchanan's problem was that he made everything worse by thinking he could prevent it.

    Similarly with Johnson, yeah he had a really hard job (which was probably made a lot harder by the actions of previous presidents like Buchanan), but he still did it badly.

    I think we're still feeling aftershocks (in the bad sense) from the actions of both of these guys today.

    That said, I agree that there's a very large element of luck and timing to it.

  4. The person who ranked Hayes as the worst president of all time either knows much more about the Hayes administration then I do or was just putting things down at random.

    The rise of the Jim Crow laws took place under Hayes. That surely puts in the short list for worst US president.

  5. I think Watergate is the *only* thing today's youth learns about Nixon. For a while, everything I heard about Nixon caught me off-guard, because this terrible man was doing great things. Starts to make you question this good/bad dichotomy.

  6. Having Ronald Reagan so low says something about the class makeup more than anything else.

    1. That they haven't listened to all the propaganda?

  7. You wrote Chester Author instead of Chester Arthur, which will probably get you murdered in cold blood by all the Die Hard fans out there

  8. is this still a complexity blog?

  9. Hm,

    17. Jimmy Carter: 1*3+ 1*2- 4*3 = -5
    19. Ronald Reagan: 1*3+3*2+1*1- 8*3 = -12.

    Looks like Americans still have problems when counting votes for their presidents :-)

    1. Thanks for the corrections.
      I have made them.