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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ranking Polk

james k polk

Ranking the Presidents of the United States can be a very complex endeavor – however the Siena Research Institute does it every few years or so. Their most recent results came out in 2010. They typically survey a large number of historians and politicos and ask them to rate the presidents on 20 different categories on a scale of 1 to 5. They then weigh these categories to come up with the overall result and compare.

I’m sure that many of you don’t know too much about James K. Polk and I believe that is the same for the vast majority of the population. However, I have a feeling that he might actually rank toward the high end in many of the categories. Let’s see!

Background (family, education, experience): 17th
Party Leadership: 9th
Communication Ability (speaking, writing): 13th
Relationship with Congress: 12th
Court Appointments: 21st
Handling of US Economy: 15th
Luck: 7th
Ability to Compromise: 23rd
Willing to Take Risks: 7th
Executive Appointments: 16th
Overall Ability: 17th
Imagination: 14th
Domestic Accomplishments: 11th
Integrity: 24th
Executive Ability: 9th
Foreign Policy Accomplishments: 8th
Leadership Ability: 10th
Intelligence: 20th
Avoid Crucial Mistakes: 9th
Your Present Overall View: 11th

Overall Ranking: 12th

I am relatively happy with these rankings for President Polk. Would you be surprised to know that pretty much since they started ranking presidents in the mid 1900’s Polk has always been in the top 12? I find this interesting especially because he is one of those who are frequently overlooked. He is often overshadowed because he is sandwiched between the looming Civil War Presidents and the prior big name Presidents. Many people don’t even know very much at all about the Mexican-American War. I like this quote from The Daily Beast, “Polk is easily our least-known consequential president”.

I think he ranks relatively highly in Domestic Accomplishments and Foreign Policy Accomplishments because he accomplished the things he set out to do upon his election. He expanded the United States to the Pacific Ocean through a war with Mexico (and subsequent treaties/deals), reduced the tariff (economics), and re-established the treasury (economics/domestics). His ability to compromise is rather low because, well, he didn’t compromise well. He stood by what he believed and didn’t budge much. I think his ranking for luck is based on his becoming president when he was really running as someone’s vice president at that point (he had aspirations for the presidency, but didn’t expect to get it yet).

Polk is one of my favorite presidents, probably ranked 2nd or 3rd for me. Do you know anything about Polk? If so, where would you place him?

Data obtained from the 2010 Siena Research Institute's 5th Presidential Expert Poll. 2010.

“The Overlooked President”, Newsweek’s The Daily Beast, Nov. 12, 2009, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/11/12/the-overlooked-president.html.


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. This is fascinating to me as well. You're so right; Polk often seems to be overlooked and I'm not really sure why!

    1. I think it really has a lot to do with bad timing. There was a run of one term presidents overshadowed by the coming war and most people just jump from Jackson right to Lincoln.


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