Name That President? Americans Have Weird Answers

71% of those surveyed think we were once led by President Alexander Hamilton
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2016 7:13 AM CST
Updated Feb 14, 2016 7:00 AM CST
Name That President? Americans Have Weird Answers
This is an undated photo of an etching of Alexander Hamilton. Many Americans appear convinced that Hamilton was once president of the United States.   (AP Photo)

Alexander Hamilton was many things—a bastard from the Caribbean, the founder of the Bank of New York, the father of the US Coast Guard, and the first Secretary of the Treasury, to name a few. But the man who died in a duel against Aaron Burr at the age of 49 was never president of the United States. And yet most Americans think he was, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis report in the journal Psychological Science. "About 71% of Americans [in our survey] are fairly certain that Alexander Hamilton is among our nation's past presidents," one researcher says. "Their confidence in Hamilton having been president is fairly high—higher than for six or so actual presidents." The 326 participants were given a list of 41 actual presidents alongside 82 "lures" and told to pick out the presidents and say how certain they were of each answer.

The majority mistakenly thought Benjamin Franklin was a US president, as well as Thomas Moore, of whom there are several in US history but none particularly famous and none who served higher than in the US House of Representatives. On the flip side, Presidents Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur didn't hit the 60%-recognition mark. Previous research shows that Americans can recall about half the US presidents, but this latest survey illustrates how famous names such as Franklin, Hubert Humphrey, and John Calhoun can lead to false positives where people know the name is an important piece of American history but not necessarily how. The researchers note they conducted their survey two months before Hamilton debuted on Broadway. (See what it's like to follow Franklin's daily schedule.)

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