Young Americans know and like Christopher Columbus far less than older Americans do

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
October 11, 2021, 8:18 PM GMT+0

Compared to American adults 45 and older, those under 30 are far less likely to have heard of Christopher Columbus, to want a day to be named for him, to see statues of him displayed, or to see him as a hero.

A YouGov poll of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 6 - 11, 2021, finds a major generational gap in knowledge and attitudes toward Columbus, the Italian explorer who arrived by ship to islands in the Caribbean in 1492.

The share of American adults under 30 who view Columbus unfavorably narrowly exceeds the share who view him favorably, while his favorability with older Americans is much higher. Columbus's favorability among young adults has declined since we asked the same question in 2014.

Perhaps an even more striking contrast is in awareness: 13% of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they haven’t heard of Columbus, compared to just 1% of Americans 45 and over.

This disparity in Columbus awareness isn’t entirely new: In a 2014 poll, 97% of Americans 65 and older knew Columbus’s initial voyage came in 1492, while just 67% of American adults under 30 knew.

One potential cause of variation in awareness is that the youngest American adults have spent their adult lives in a period when the U.S. increasingly has turned away from celebrating Columbus Day. More than 100 cities and several states are observing Indigenous Peoples' Day instead this year. More adults under 45 favor referring to the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day than as Columbus Day, while Columbus Day is vastly preferred by older Americans.

Statues of Columbus divide young American adults, while they are resoundingly backed for display by older Americans. Overall, just 24% of American adults say the statues should not be displayed, down from 34% in a YouGov poll last year.

Correspondingly, more younger Americans say Columbus is more of a villain than say he is more of a hero, though many choose neither or say they don't know. Americans 65 and older are three times as likely to see Columbus as more of a hero than as more of a villain, though the humanizing “neither” is an even more popular choice.

Americans’ views of Columbus as more of a hero or more of a villain are about what they were in 2019. In 2014 and 2020 polls that didn’t provide “neither” as an option, the “hero” view of Columbus won out over “villain.”

Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from this YouGov poll

Methodology: 2,000 U.S. Citizens, aged 18 and over, were surveyed for this poll on October 6 - 11, 2021. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in Internet panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2018 American Community Study. Voter registration was imputed from the November 2018 Current Population Survey Regis- tration and Voting Supplement. The sample was weighted based on gender, age, race, education, news interest, and 2020 Presidential vote (or non-vote). The margin of error for the entire sample is 2.7%.

Image: Getty