The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Actually, most people *do* know that Lincoln was a Republican

Then-President-elect Trump and his wife, Melania, wave to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial during a concert in Washington on Jan. 19. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Of all of the places President Trump might ask his audience if “anyone” knows that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner is one of the more unexpected. But, on Tuesday night, that was the question he posed.

“Great president. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know?” he said during his remarks. “Lot of people don’t know that. We have to build that up a little more. Let’s take an ad.”

Trump: Most people don’t know President Lincoln was a Republican

Elected officials from the Republican Party, often referred to as the “Party of Lincoln,” were presumably excused from Trump’s analysis. But let’s answer the president’s question: Do people actually know that Lincoln was a Republican?

Mostly, yes.

In 2012, Pew Research surveyed Americans to gauge their knowledge of our political system and asked that precise question: To what party did Lincoln belong? More than half, 55 percent, said Republican. Only a bit over a quarter said Democratic.

A survey conducted for Newsweek by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in 2007 broke out responses along demographic lines. The question was slightly different, asking people to identify the first Republican president from a list of four: Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ulysses Grant or Teddy Roosevelt. Overall, a bit over a third of respondents correctly identified Lincoln — slightly more didn’t answer or said they didn’t know.

There was no real difference in response along party lines, suggesting that it isn’t only Lincoln’s party that can identify Lincoln’s party.

But along other metrics, there was a wider gulf. Older Americans, for example, were much more likely to know that Lincoln was the first Republican president.

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, better educated Americans were as well.

More than half of those with a college or graduate degree identified Lincoln as the first Republican president. Only about 3 in 10 Americans with a high school degree or less could do the same.

In Pew’s polling, the same splits emerged: Those 65 and over were 21 points more likely to correctly identify Lincoln’s party than those under 30 and people with college degrees were also 21 points more likely to get the question right than those with a high school degree. For both younger and less well-educated respondents to the poll, most, in fact, didn’t know that Lincoln was a Republican.

These polls were conducted five and 10 years ago, so perhaps America’s familiarity with the political affiliation of Abraham Lincoln has grown or waned to some extent. 2007, for example, was one year into the existence of Twitter, meaning that users of the social network had not yet been barraged by people with egg avatars who used Lincoln’s party affiliation as a trump card in discussions about racial politics.

If Twitter outrage can move the needle, perhaps these numbers might have shifted. Of course, in that case, America has other problems.