In The Herald Bulletin’s daily online poll, a vast gap in opinions about Donald Trump appears whenever we’ve posed a question about his comments, policies, actions or behavior.

At one end of the spectrum, respondents have strongly opposed Trump. At the other end, they’ve shown unwavering support. Generally, only a small percentage have chosen responses in the middle expressing uncertainty or moderate reaction.

Now that the impeachment trial has ended, we are posing a poll question today asking respondents where Trump belongs in a historical evaluation of U.S. presidents. I can guarantee that most will place him either at or near the bottom or at or near the top. Few will rank him in the middle of the pack.

Trump is the historical definition of a polarizing figure.

It’s interesting to look back on the most recent scholarly ranking of U.S. presidents, which took place in 2018.

The Siena College Research Institute, as it has done in the second year of a new president’s term since 1982, asked historians, political scientists and presidential scholars to evaluate the presidents in these areas:

Background, imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck, willing to take risks, avoidance of crucial mistakes, court appointments, domestic accomplishments, executive appointments, foreign policy accomplishments, handling of U.S. economy, party leadership, relationship with Congress, ability to compromise, communication ability, executive ability, leadership ability and overall ability.

In 2018, the scholars surveyed by Seina ranked Trump 42nd, ahead of only Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan.

Johnson, ranked last, ascended to the Oval Office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and clashed with his fellow Republicans during Reconstruction. The first president impeached, he was acquitted by a single vote.

Buchanan, ranked 43rd, was in the White House 1857-1861. He’s criticized by historians for failing to recognize the depth of America’s division over slavery, providing poor crisis leadership as the nation staggered toward the Civil War.

Trump’s low ranking in the Senia survey can be attributed in part to historical regard of his intelligence, integrity and overall ability. Scholars ranked him last in each of those areas. His highest category ranking, 10th, was in “luck,” perhaps because he inherited a robust economy.

Bear in mind that the 2018 Seina survey was conducted more than a year before Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019 and three years before he became the first president to be impeached twice.

Given the historical context of the Capitol Hill insurrection and Trump’s second impeachment, he might sink to dead last in the Seina survey to be conducted next year.

Of course, none of this will change the perspective of most Trump supporters. To them, it’s just more evidence that scholars, like newspaper columnists, are innately prejudiced against conservatives and especially against Trump.

But the Siena survey shows historians regard some modern conservatives highly. Ronald Reagan ranks 13th and Dwight Eisenhower sixth.

The top three in the study, from first to third, are George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column is published Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4845.

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