Easy Numeric Rating of US President? (like QB Rating)

If the NFL can rate quarterbacks down to a single number with an easy formula, can the same be done with the US President?

I’d like the rating to reflect things the US President has actual control over with his actions. Also, let’s use cold hard numbers that are not based on something subjective like opinion polls.

What are the factors that should be in this rating? Does the President have enough control over the unemployment rate to use that? How about the budget deficit / surplus?

Or, if you’re ambitious, propose a formula and give a few examples from recent Presidents on how they would be rated with your system.

I’d like this system to reward good Presidential behavior, without allowing a President to pad the score without really improving the nation.

Quarterbacks play a defined role in a defined environment, where there are clear criteria for success or failure – ultimateky, it’s games won or lost, wehich is directly related to points scored for or against your team.

Presidents play a much more open role in a much more open environment, where the criteria for success or failure are not defined so clearly, and are far more controversial. In football, it is clear whether team A beat team B. In politics, can it ever be clear whether country A is beating country B?

Well, those are good points, Giles, but that is why I posted in GD instead of GQ. I believe that there are clear criteria for success and failure, albeit controversial ones. (Not that QB ratings are entirely without controversy). For example, a massive increase in the budget shortfall seems to be a pretty clear indicator of failure.

The QB ratings actually does not take win/loss into account. Also, I am comparing US presidents, not leaders of other countries.

Sorry to reply to my own post. On further thought, I suppose such a rating could apply to other world leaders. My point is that ratings don’t affect which countries “beat” each other. (A lower-rated QB’s team could beat a higher-rated QB’s team)

And I’m waffling on whether polls should be used. It does seem that approval ratings could be a good measure of performance even though they are rather short-term. What do you think?

soo… FDR can be counted as one of the worst presidents in history because the debt he racked up topped off at 120 percent of GDP? (Just sos ya know, currently our debt is roughly 70 percent of GDP.)

FDR also cast more vetoes than any other president in history. Our current president (and I’m assuming you’re not a fan) has cast none. Which is statistically better, casting more than 600 vetoes or casting none?

That depends… is casting vetoes considered good Presidential behavior or bad? I was looking at the Jimmy Carter thread and it is said his presidency was universally regarded as a failure. By what quantitive measure?

It depends on the context, which is why this will be extremely difficult to come up with an unbiased metric. Trying to compare a QB rating to a President is bound to fail, I fear.

I think that early posts have identified the problem with objectively “rating” the Presidents: it’s got a high degree of difficulty, and there are always going to be problems and quirks with whatever formula we come up with.

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt it.

I just finished Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, and one of the interesting things he points out is that it was really tough when MLB teams began to do quantitative analysis on the effectiveness of baseball players because a lot of the data was not kept. Then he notes that, as hard as it is to evaluate baseball players objectively, there are virtually no hard statistics kept on everyday people, like lawyers, doctors, etc.

For example, you might refer to a lawyer’s “win” ratio in court. However, that number is misleading since 95% of all cases settle.

So when is a lawyer effective? Or a bricklayer? Or a businessman?

And don’t misunderstand - in many cases, you can eyeball someone and decide they are effective. A salesman who closes big account after big account is obviously talented and successful. But, there is no way to objectively determine whether another salesman offered the same leads and given the same resources wouldn’t be more successful.

So, here’s what I propose: rather than focusing on the negatives and the voodoo and the drawbacks, let’s brainstorm first. Let’s fire out all the objective statistics that we could consider and gradually whittle them down into a formula.

Here’s some measures I propose:

(1) approval rating

  • Granted, as President Bush reminds us constantly “History will be the judge…” but I still think that an excellent way to evaluate a president is to refer to his/her popularity at the time they were making decisions.

(2) unemployment rate

  • The real problem with numbers like unemployment rate or interest rate is that a President can inherit a bad situation that’s just been waiting to explode. Therefore I would actually like to propose “% change in unemployment rate over term.” Therefore “better” Presidents will be the ones who created more jobs over their tenure.

Same with:

(3) % change in interest rate over term.

(4) % change in inflation rate over term.

(5) % change in GDP over term.

(6) % change in deficit over term.

These next three statistics are a little more elusive and I’m not really sure how to approach them:

(7) # of soldiers involved in conflict (or # of soldiers killed in conflict)

  • I’ll just say it: this is going to be a problematic statistic. In my personal opinion, Abe Lincoln and FDR were “great” Presidents. However, I can’t think of a way to incorporate this statistic without eviscerating these two presidents, while still providing an appropriate negative for Presidents involved in other, more controversial, conflicts. That leads to another problem: gaming the statistics. Should this number, or a similar number, stand on its own - making FDR, for example, a worse president? Or should we “cook the books” to make sure that our formula results in what we feel are correct numbers?

(8) years in office

(9) # of appointments to the Supreme Court

For these last two statistics - do they really mean anything? Supreme Court justics often stray from the path their appointing President intended. Later years in office are often spent quacking. Yet, I think they are both important in objectively measuring the Presidents.


The Doctor

Don’t forget that Nixon won his second term in a landslide. And it often takes great courage and is the halmark of a great leader when he/she can take unpopular but necessary actions.

Can you show evidence that what the President does has any real impact on those numbers? In general, we give the President credit for these things happening during his administration, but I’d like to see some evidence that Fed policy and the normal business cycle don’t have more impact.

This statistic is a disaster. Sometimes conflict is needed. By itself, that isn’t a measure of a good or bad leader, unless you claim that Lincoln, Wilson, or FDR could have (or should have) done something to prevent the wars that dominated their administrations. Would an FDR that chose Isolation have been a better president than the one who got the country behind him and fought Hitler?

How is this different than popularity?

This one has little to do with a President’s rating, but may have meaning when talking about his legacy. But it’s out of the control of Presidents, for the most part.

I don’t like any of these so far. :slight_smile: Approval rating is a start, but popularity is not a measure of effectiveness or greatness in a leader. Didn’t Churchill lose an election soon after WWII?

I agree. Think of the adoration we will get if we discover a great formula. Supermodels would practically be throwing themselves on me! :smiley:

I like your suggestions so far. I think even if FDR ran up a big deficit, that should count. We can all agree that had FDR achieved everything he did and not run up a big deficit, that would’ve been even better. So, he gets a minus mark there and hopefully everything else he did brings his rating up.

As for war casualties, how about this? If the war is lost, subtract points for people killed on all sides. If the war is a draw, subtract half the points. If the war is won, add points for enemy survivors minus friendly casualties. Maybe have the calculation on percentage of population or use logarithms to have the numbers work out.

As for the other Presidential powers such as veto or Supreme Court nominees, add points if done expeditiously and well. Not sure if this is quantifiable… basically reward a President who gathers information, thinks out his decisions and acts without dragging on the process.

Maybe subtract points for scandals?

I think you are illustrating the reason that social scientists have to be acquainted with quantitative and qualitative analysis, even if they prefer to use one over the other.

If you think that Washington, FDR and Wilson were great presidents and you think the numbers should reflect that, then you’re already skewing your data to fit a model.

The ease of acheiving quantitative analysis of quarterbacks or first basemen or golfers is that each is competing in a game in which there are a set number of outcomes, and the outcomes are clearly defined as being good or bad: touchdowns, home runs, and birdies are good; fumbles, errors, and bogeys are bad.

You quite simply can’t break down life or politics the same way, because there are an infinite number of outcomes with no clearly defined value. Is having a dog a good thing? Dogs are expensive and a pain in the ass to walk two or three times a day, but people derive an unquantifiable amount of pleasure from them. Likewise, how can you assign a quantity to the outcome that President Monroe decreed that Europeans shall no longer mess around in our hemisphere?

Unless you want to design a new game, like The Sims 2: Oval Office Edition, in which Presidents have little bars that indicate how dirty, hungry, influential, and attention-hungry they are, you’re just simply barking up the wrong tree.

Trained historian

Apologies for this long post:

No, I don’t have any evidence. And I agree with you that the President might not have any real control over these things. Regardless, however, the buck stops with the President. These things (like interest rate, etc) factor in when people refer to great Presidents. For example, Hoover didn’t cause the Great Depression - but his inability to cope with it colors his entire Presidency.

I think these things, as external as they are, must be included.

I agree with you that the statistic is a disaster. I acknowledged its limitations and shortcomings in posting it. However, I think that it’s a start towards something that must be included when evaluating Presidents quantitatively.

As for your rhetorical question regarding FDR… I don’t know. Let’s make a formula, then pretend FDR didn’t go to war and see if his rating goes up or down! :smiley:

For a more serious answer, in my opinion, of course FDR wouldn’t be a better President if he had gone for appeasement. And I think that an acceptable formula ought to reflect that. Of course, that’s what raises the questions of gaming. More on that later.

One is a measure of how many years a President has been in office. The other is a measure of his popularity with the people. Ok?

Just kidding with the smartass answer. The realistic answer is that years in office reflects a President’s popularity in election years. Including approval ratings (whether averaged over the span of their presidency or in some other fashion) would more accurately reflect their popularity. Including the number of years would provide a bonus to Presidents who performed in multiple terms.


Feel free, Telemark, to fire out any stats you think we should include. I’ll be sure to tear them apart with relish.

An excellent point. One that I fully admitted and grappled with somewhat above. However, we have to face up to the fact that a formula that states that Millard Filmore is our greatest president and FDR is our worst is pure fantasy.

I am sensitive to concerns of gaming the formula to fit our personal reflections on what a great President is. But to a limited extent, those of us interested in tackling this problem may have to, based on the complexity of this problem. Similarly, if you were developing a formula to determine the greatest all-time hitter, and you found that Hank Aaron was the worst, and Michael Jordan was the best, you’d know that it was untenable.

See IMO all of this may be true - but it’s not really helpful. We are attempting to develop some sort of formula that could be useful in evaluating the Presidents. No, it’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to have to simplify and refine and make assumptions, etc. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful. And that doesn’t mean that we should simply give up.

I assume you listed Trained historian to give some credibility / weight to your response. Great, thanks. If you’ve read Moneyball, it’s a bit like the baseball scouts snickering at the numbers guys. Their perspective was: “you can’t judge a guy just by the numbers! You’ve got to watch him play, and look at his face, and talk with him to see if he’s got it baseball-wise.”

That was their shortcoming. I’m sorry that your professional training apparently precludes you from participating in this sort of exercise, because you could be such an asset in making whatever formula we can make just a little bit better.

The Doctor

Let me start by being negative. This is difficult because every action of consequence taken by a president creates winners and losers (FDR sent many innocent Japanese-Americans to internment camps) and as we all know, history is written by the winners. That is why Pres. Bush is right (unbelievable!) when he says that approval ratings are meaningless and history will be the judge. So, quantifying the success of a president’s actions would be impossible without taking sides on every issue. That is to say, the subjectivity is unavoidable. As a hypothetical, let’s say the next president is a liberal democrat who works very hard to legalize gay marriage. How on earth do we quantify the impact of this president’s action without taking a stance on gay marriage?

Which leads me to the positive. I think there may be ways to measure a president’s effectiveness at accomplishing what he is trying to accomplish. This is different from the looking at whether his accomplishments were good or not. One such statistic might be to examine how much legislation the president is able to push through congress. This could be weighted for degree of difficulty (same party/different party). Another, would be to look at what a president said he would do and then look to see whether he got it done. Back to the hypothetical, regardless of your stance on gay marriage, if Pres. X said he would legalize gay marriage and did so, he gets points.

Regardless, finding and operationalizing these stats would most certainly be more trouble than the resulting rating would be worth - unless you’re getting a Ph.D. out of it. But it is interesting to think about.