Ronald Reagan; Donald Trump
Ronald Reagan (Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images); Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

When asked to name the president who has done the best job over the past 40 years, a majority of Democrats name Barack Obama. Republicans, by contrast, are divided between a president who served in the 1980s – Ronald Reagan – and the one who left office this year, Donald Trump.

A bar chart showing that Reagan, Trump viewed as best recent presidents by Republicans; Obama is by far the top choice among Democrats

About four-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (42%) say Reagan has done the best job as president over the past 40 years, while slightly fewer (37%) say Trump has done the best job.

Around six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (59%) say Obama has done the best job as president of any president of the past 40 years. Far fewer name Bill Clinton (19%) or Joe Biden (5%), who will complete his first year in office next month.

Seven presidents have served in the last 40 years, four Republicans and three Democrats. Among U.S. adults overall, 35% say Obama has done the best job over this period, followed by Reagan (23%), Trump (17%) and Clinton (12%). Relatively small shares among both the general public and among Republicans name either George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush, according to the survey, conducted in September on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.

Pew Research Center surveyed 10,371 U.S. adults in September 2021 and asked about Americans’ views of U.S. presidents over the last 40 years. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Among Republicans, views on who has done the best job as president over the past four decades vary by race and ethnicity, age and other demographics.

A bar chart showing that older Republicans far more likely than younger Republicans to name Reagan as best recent president

Comparable shares of White and Hispanic Republicans say Trump has done the best job as president (38% and 33%, respectively). But White Republicans are more likely than Hispanic Republicans to name Reagan (45% vs. 28%), while a quarter of Hispanic Republicans (27%) say a Democratic president did the best job over the past 40 years. Black and Asian Republicans make up much smaller shares of the public; as a result, sample size limitations mean it is not possible to analyze their views. Half of Republicans ages 50 and older say Reagan has done the best job of any recent president, compared with 32% of those under age 50. There are smaller age differences in the shares of Republicans who name Trump. And while relatively small shares of Republicans in all age groups name Democratic presidents, those under 50 are more likely than those 50 and older to do so (19% vs. 3%).

Among Republicans who have not completed college, comparable shares name Trump and Reagan as the top recent presidents (40% and 38%, respectively). Among Republican college graduates, more say Reagan than Trump by a wide margin (51% vs. 29%).

Among Republicans who name Reagan or Trump as the best recent president, there are sizable differences in choices for the second-best president. Among Republicans who say Trump, about three-quarters (73%) say Reagan is the second-best president of the past 40 years. However, among those who point to Reagan, views of the second-best president are more varied: 54% say Trump, while 34% name other Republican presidents and 11% name Democratic presidents.

A bar chart showing that around three-quarters of young Democrats say Obama is the best recent president

Among Democrats, majorities across demographic groups view Obama as the best recent president. Still, younger Democrats are especially likely to say this, and Black Democrats are somewhat more likely than White and Hispanic Democrats to hold this view.

Nearly three-quarters of Democrats ages 18 to 29 (74%) say Obama has been the best president over the past 40 years, by far the highest share of any age group. And while 69% of Black Democrats name Obama, smaller majorities do so among Hispanic and White Democrats (56% each). Among Asian American Democrats, 64% name Obama.

For a more detailed look at how the partisan coalitions differ in their views of the best president in recent years, read Pew Research Center’s 2021 political typology report.

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Amina Dunn  is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.