When asked to name the United States 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 one who is currently running to return to office, Donald Trump.
Pew Research Center surveyed 8,480 U.S. adults from July 10 to July 16, 2023, and asked about their views of United States 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.
About four-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (41%) say Reagan has done the best job as president over the past 40 years. Slightly fewer (37%) say Trump has done the best job, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in July.
Nearly six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (58%) say Obama has done the best job as president in the past 40 years. Far fewer name Bill Clinton (19%) or Joe Biden (7%), who is running for reelection in 2024.
In the last four decades, four Republicans and three Democrats have served as president. Among U.S. adults overall, 32% say Obama has done the best job during this period, followed by Reagan (23%), Trump (19%) and Clinton (12%). Relatively small shares name Biden, George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush (4% or less for each).
Americans’ views of which presidents have done the best job in the past 40 years are largely unchanged since a September 2021 Center survey. The new survey was conducted after Trump was indicted in federal court in Florida on charges related to improper handling of classified documents, but before indictments charging him with attempts to overturn the 2020 election were returned in federal court in Washington, D.C., and in state court in Georgia.
Republicans’ views of the best recent president
Republicans’ opinions of who has done the best job as president over the past four decades vary by race and ethnicity, age, and other demographics.
Comparable shares of White (37%) and Hispanic Republicans (43%) say Trump has done the best job as president. But White Republicans are more likely than Hispanic Republicans to name Reagan (45% vs. 26%). And about two-in-ten Hispanic Republicans (21%) say a Democratic president did the best job over the past 40 years, while a far smaller share of White Republicans (8%) say this.
Black and Asian Republicans make up much smaller shares of the public; their responses cannot be reported separately due to insufficient sample sizes.
Roughly half of Republicans ages 50 and older (51%) say Reagan has done the best job of any recent president, compared with 29% of those under 50. There are no sizable age differences in the shares of Republicans who name Trump. While relatively small shares of Republicans in all age groups name Democratic presidents, those under 50 are more likely to do so than those 50 and older (19% vs. 6%).
Among Republicans who have not completed a bachelor’s degree, comparable shares name Trump and Reagan as the top recent presidents (41% vs. 37%). However, among Republicans with at least a bachelor’s degree, more choose Reagan than Trump by a wide margin (51% vs. 27%).
Who has been the second-best recent president?
Among Republicans who name Reagan or Trump as the best recent president, there are sizable differences in their choices for the second-best president. Among Republicans who name Trump as the best president of the past 40 years, two-thirds say Reagan is the second best, while 17% name another Republican and 14% name a Democrat. However, among those who choose Reagan as the best, views of the second-best president are more varied: 55% say Trump, while 31% name another Republican and 13% name a Democrat.
Democrats’ views of the best recent president
Among Democrats, majorities across most demographic groups view Obama as the best recent president. Still, there are some differences by age and by race and ethnicity.
While half or more Democrats in all age groups name Obama as the best recent president, younger Democrats are particularly likely to say this. About two-thirds of Democrats ages 18 to 29 (68%) choose Obama, compared with 57% of those ages 30 to 49 and about half (52%) of those ages 50 and older.
While 64% each of Black and Asian Democrats name Obama as the best recent president, smaller shares of White (56%) and Hispanic Democrats (51%) say this. Hispanic Democrats are more likely than those in other racial or ethnic groups to name a GOP president as the best: A quarter name a Republican, including 16% who name Reagan and 3% who name Trump.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published on Dec. 20, 2021, written by former research analyst Amina Dunn. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and the survey methodology.