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Americans’ Perspective of Abraham Lincoln

How is it that 2/3 of Americans say they know “little to nothing” about arguably the most influential person in our country’s history, and one of the most famous and featured people of all time, President Abraham Lincoln?

That’s one of the results we found important, and surprising, in our study titled “Americans’ Perceptions of Abraham Lincoln” we’re releasing today about the 16th President of the United States. In conjunction with our work on the film LINCOLN, we wanted to understand more about the American people’s knowledge and perceptions of a man who many say is only surpassed by Jesus of Nazareth as the most written-about person of all time. So, just how important is Abraham Lincoln to Americans and the conversation about our national character today? Consider these findings from our report:

  • Most Americans believe Abraham Lincoln is the best and most influential president in U.S. history, and unprompted 1/3 listed him as the historical figure they most admire.
  • 83% of Americans think the Emancipation Proclamation declared slavery illegal nationwide. (This is false: The Proclamation applied in only ten states that were still in rebellion in 1863, and thus did not cover the nearly 500,000 slaves in the slave-holding border states – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland or Delaware – which were Union states.)
  • Abraham Lincoln would’ve won the 2012 election, beating both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney; and 40% still think he was a Democrat. (Psst: He was a Republican!)
  • Most Americans believe Abraham Lincoln would’ve supported government assistance programs like welfare and food stamps, but would’ve opposed same-sex marriage or looser immigration laws.
  • 87% think it’s important for leaders today to look to Abraham Lincoln for guidance when making important decisions.

Download the full report here! OK, so I guess the answer is, very important. While Americans think the lessons from his presidency and legacy are critical to understand, many get some of the easy answers about him, wrong. So we decided to hit the road with our Social Action campaign, and work with Steven Spielberg and Disney to bring the LINCOLN (the film) and related educational materials to high schools and towns across the country. We hope to foster some great discussion, debates and ultimately greater understanding about one of the most important and influential people in American history, Abraham Lincoln, and how his legacy lives on today. See the Social Action campaign for LINCOLN press release here. – Chad Boettcher, Executive Vice President, Social Action & Advocacy Email Chad at reelimpact@participantmedia.com or follow him @chadboettcher