Presidential candidates toe a tough line in the race for the White House. It's crucial to prove they have the leadership skills needed to govern a nation. At the same time, contenders must paint themselves as Washington outsiders, because people tend to distrust politicians. An extensive political record can serve as both a pro and a con.
In the 2016 race, experience helped and hurt the two major party candidates. Hillary Clinton's more than 20 years in the national spotlight boosted her political résumé, but also gave her opponents plenty of scandals and contradictions to use against her. For some, Donald Trump's lack of government experience made him the perfect person to shake up Washington, yet it caused others to question his ability to play politics.
To explore the pre-presidency backgrounds of previous Commanders-in-Chief, politics site InsideGov ranked the 43 past presidents from the least to most experienced. In the list, experience includes time holding elected or appointed office, or serving in a federal cabinet position. Though many great leaders have come from the military, this ranking only considered political experience. To qualify, positions had to be held for a year or more. Ties were broken chronologically, with earlier presidents ranked behind later ones.
After ranking presidents by political records, InsideGov looked at how each of them placed in the American Political Science Association's 2015 presidential ranking. This list considers each of the 43 Commander-in-Chief's achievements, leadership, failures and faults while in office.
Of the four men who had no political experience before assuming the presidency, only Dwight Eisenhower made it into the top 10 in the APSA ranking — the others ranked 28th, 32nd and 33rd. Of the 11 people with 20 or more years in office prior to the White House, only one, Thomas Jefferson, made the top 10.
According to the APSA, the four most successful presidents had all spent between four and 10 years in public office, while the worst president in history was actually the one with the most previous experience in politics.
Let's begin the list with three generals who never held office before taking the White House, and count up to the 31-year political veteran who saw the Union collapse under his watch. APSA rankings are included on each slide for context.
*Because the rankings are from 2015, Donald Trump is not included.