Americans less likely than Canadians to Believe War of 1812 had Significant Outcomes, Important to Formation National Identity, but still more likely to Commemorate War

February 13, 2012

A new Historica-Dominion Institute poll shows Americans better at promoting their history

TORONTO—February 13, 2012— With the arrival of the War of 1812 Bicentennial, The Historica-Dominion Institute has commissioned a bi-national poll from Ipsos-Reid to measure Canadian and American attitudes and knowledge of the hotly contested conflict.  

The study reveals telling national trends about how Canadians and Americans view and value the War of 1812 and other history. While 77% of Canadians identified an important outcome of the War (54% selected the evasion of US conquest) only 64% of Americans identified any significant outcome. Moreover, the fact that Canada beat the US in the War of 1812 placed second (25%) in a list of items that defined Canadian identity, behind only free health care (53%) but ahead of beating the US at hockey (6%). Canadians (17%) are much more likely than Americans (3%) to feel that 1812 is the most important war in the formation of their country’s identity.

Despite a visibly higher perceived importance of the War in Canada, Americans are still more likely to believe that commemoration and promotion of their historical figures is important: 80% of Americans and 77% of Canadians agree that the War of 1812 Bicentennial is an important commemoration and that their national government should support it. It is equally revealing that a majority of Americans (58%) and a minority of Canadians (49%) agree that their nation is good at promoting its history.

Consequently, it should not surprise that high importance of the War in Canada did not correlate to high levels of knowledge. A majority of Canadians (66%) believed that Sir John A Macdonald was a key figure in the War of 1812. Yet 61% of Canadians knew the reason that Tecumseh and his Aboriginal confederacy formed an alliance with the British: they thought them more supportive than the Americans.

While it has been suggested that the War is more important north of the border, findings show agreement between the two countries: Overall, both agree that the War of 1812 was important to their nation’s identity (77% Americans, 79% of Canadians) and history (84% Americans, 83% Canadians).

 “Canadians and Americans have been debating the War of 1812 for two hundred years,” said Jeremy Diamond, Director at The Historica-Dominion Institute. “This study reveals that citizens on both sides agree that the War of 1812 is important to our history and identity, as is its commemoration. It also shows important differences in how we tell and teach our national stories.”

Other findings include:

  • Had American conquest been successful, Canadians most feared the possible outcomes of sharing US politics and government (60%) gun laws (18%) and citizenship with the cast of Jersey Shore (6%).
  • Americans (84%) are more likely than Canadians (78%) to agree it’s important who won the War.
  • One-third (31%) of Americans believe the Star Spangled Banner was the most important outcome of the War.
  • Americans (88%) are more likely than Canadians (81%) to believe that the War should be mandatory teaching in schools and 20% more likely to say they had learned about it in school.
  • 32% of Canadians do not know that Laura Secord was a key figure in the War of 1812.
  • Fewer Quebecers (65%) than the average Canadian (77%) believe that War of 1812 Bicentennial is an important commemoration.

The Historica-Dominion Institute is the largest independent organization dedicated to history and citizenship in Canada. Its mandate is to build active and informed citizens through a greater knowledge and appreciation of the history, heritage and stories of Canada. Full survey results are available here.

This poll was made possible by the generous support of the Donner Canadian Foundation.


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