Winston Churchill defeats Martin Luther King in battle of the orators poll

British public unimpressed by speaking skills of modern leaders

Only Winston Churchill was a more inspiring orator than Martin Luther King, the British public says in a ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday. To mark the 50th anniversary of King's "I have a dream" speech on 28 August, we asked people to compare King with eight other speakers.

The resulting league table shows being dead is the most important qualification for a high ranking, and that current or recent UK politicians are the worst rated. David Cameron is saved from last place only by his immediate predecessor at No 10.

Of our sample, 39 per cent said Churchill was a "more inspiring" speaker than King, and a further 36 per cent that he was "about the same" – presumably thinking of his wartime radio addresses rather than his postwar claim that a Labour government "would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo". Only 11 per cent said Churchill was "less inspiring" than King.

King's speech, once voted by academics as the best US speech of the 20th century, will be commemorated later this month by Americans led by Barack Obama, who is in fifth place. A monument to King is expected to be completed in time for the anniversary after a dispute over the inscription was settled when it was completely erased.

King delivered the speech, as the 16th of 18 speakers, to an audience of 250,000 civil rights marchers gathered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The best-known part of it, the "I have a dream" section, was improvised. The "dream", alluding to "the American dream" and the exclusion of black people from it, was a recurring theme of his speeches. King was assassinated five years later.

John F Kennedy comes third in the table. The 50th anniversary of his assassination, three months after King's speech, falls this 22 November. Margaret Thatcher, whose "lady is not for turning" speech was much replayed when she died in April, comes fourth.

President Obama is the highest-ranked living person. His unscripted address to the White House press corps on the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin last month was a notable performance. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," he said, before launching into a thoughtful plea for people to respect the law but work to change it.

London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, in sixth place, is the highest living Briton, just ahead of the three most recent prime ministers.

ComRes asked: "For each of the following, please indicate whether you think they were, or are, more inspiring or less inspiring a speaker than Martin Luther King, or about the same?" The scores show the difference between the percentage saying "more inspiring" and that saying "less inspiring".

Rhetoric league

Winston Churchill +28

Martin Luther King 0

JF Kennedy -11

Margaret Thatcher -33

Barack Obama -36

Boris Johnson -62

Tony Blair -71

David Cameron -74

Gordon Brown -79

ComRes interviewed 2,001 GB adults online on 14 and 15 August 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative