Is Abraham Lincoln the Most Unifying President in U.S. History?

Southerners think so at roughly the same rate as other Americans.

Americans consider themselves to be members of a divided nation, according to the new poll released by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute. As Bob Cohn notes, "Every day we hear about how society is splitting apart -- a polarized Congress, a fragmented media market, a persistent schism among Americans over social issues." There is, however, one question from the poll that showed a certain kind of unity among Americans that I found surprising and heartening.

Here's the question:

unity poll full.png
The language is obviously open to interpretation: Abraham Lincoln presided over the country at the apex of its divisions -- the Civil War -- but embodies unity in the sense of championing unity when it was most in doubt and succeeding in holding the United States together as one nation.


When I saw the above results, I wondered whether people in the South would agree with the interpretation of Abraham Lincoln as a political leader who embodies unity. And they basically do. Looking at the breakdown by region, found on page 60, we find that 21 percent of Americans overall choose Abraham Lincoln as embodying unity better than any American president in history... and 20 percent of Americans in the South feel the way. There are partisan differences in how people evaluate presidents for the purposes of this question, but once you account for those partisan differences, it isn't clear to me if there are any regional differences.

From a historical perspective, that would seem to be one way that America is much more unified than it once was. One last note: it is very surprising to me that George Washington scored so low on this question, given his singular role in unifying the 13 original states. Ronald Reagan won reelection by a huge margin, but was he really more historically unifying than Washington?
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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