The 2012 stakes are high for President Obama, whose re-election could mean more than four more years in the White House—it could transform his status in the minds of historians from average to one of greatest presidents of all time.
Presidential rankings expert Curt Nichols created a regression analysis of what qualities historians look for when ranking presidents and predicts that the 2012 election will make or break Obama's legacy.
"If he got re-elected, he would come in at fourth behind Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and George Washington," Nichols says. "Not getting re-elected, though, shows him at 22 on the list. He falls to the middle of the pack."
Nichols' study, due out in June in the Presidential Studies Quarterly, concludes that there are eight criteria that help predict presidential rating scores.
Nichols says that if Obama is re-elected, he will go down in history as a "re-ordering" president. a leader who ushers in a new era of politics like FDR's New Deal Era or the Reagan revolution. A re-ordering president usually delivers a new constituency to his respective party as Obama did with the Youth Vote in 2008 or Reagan was able to do with the South. A "re-ordering" president usually follows a president who was ineffective and caused the end of a political era. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
"Obama has the opportunity to be a transformative president, but only if he is re-elected," Nichols argues. "Otherwise, he will go down in history as unable to really instigate change." Nichols says Reagan flipped entitlements while FDR created a welfare state. For Obama, healthcare could be the issue that solidifies him as a change agent. Other factors that will boost Obama's future rating score include the fact that he was a wartime president, stayed away from major scandals, and will be remembered as a progressive.
"Obama's message is that he pursues equality for all, which gives him a big bonus," Nichols says.