We the people grow more ignorant about government


Tomorrow is Constitution Day, but why put off the annual day of mourning?

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania is out with its annual assessment of knowledge about how the U.S. government works. And it’s not pretty. Again.

Only 84 percent of those surveyed could name the Republican presidential nominee. Only 87 percent could name the Democratic presidential nominee. It’s true that the survey was taken just before both of the national political conventions, but by then, of course, it was clear whom each party was going to nominate.

The survey shows also that we’re getting more ignorant.

In 2011, only 38 percent of those surveyed could name the three branches of government; this year only 26 percent can.

About 1 in three could name only one branch of government. Thirty-one percent could not name a single branch of government.

Oh, there’s more:

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) incorrectly said that the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war. Over half (54 percent) knew that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Four percent think that’s the job of the Supreme Court.

A vast majority (83 percent) correctly said that the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise taxes.

A majority (77 percent) know that the Constitution says that Congress cannot establish an official religion – though almost 1 in 10 agreed with the statement that the Constitution says, “Congress can outlaw atheism because the United States is one country under God.”

Six percent of the people surveyed think Congress can ban people from attending a church if most of the country considers it dangerous.

Forty percent of those surveyed favor the notion of news organizations getting the permission of government before reporting on any aspect of national security.

Let that one sink in for a few minutes.

The survey is released each year along with a call for more civics education in the country’s schools. Like the Constitution itself, that call is routinely ignored.

In celebration of Constitution Day tomorrow, naturalization ceremonies will be held throughout the nation, welcoming new citizens who will have a firmer grasp on the structure of government than most of the people who took the survey.

Related: These students didn’t know Bin Laden was dead. How did we get so clueless about news? (Washington Post)

  • BReynolds33

    “In celebration of Constitution Day tomorrow, naturalization ceremonies will be held throughout the nation…” giving Trump supporters yet another thing to complain about.

  • They need to get Steve Harvey to reveal these numbers on a Family Feud type show. I don’t know if that would raise awareness, but it’d sure be fun.

  • Rob

    When our morally challenged leadership gives us crap like the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, drone strikes on American citizens, renditioning and waterboarding, it’s hard to blame the electorate for misperceiving how government functions, and what restraints the Constitution imposes on the wielding of power.

    • Not to me. It’s not mutually exclusive. Plus, I think there’s an argument that says one reason we have all of the “crap” you mentioned is because so many Americans are so ignorant that they don’t see a problem.

      • Rob

        Even Americans who aren’t ignorant and who see the problems don’t have the power to change the outcomes.

    • MikeB

      Chicken and Egg. An informed electorate would have made better choices. Do we get the government we deserve?

  • Anna

    And we wonder why we have the current crop of presidential candidates?

    I had civics in 8th grade which covered state and federal government. I had to take a 100 question, fill-in-the-blank final for my American History class in high school. World History was a required course for seniors.

    I wonder if any of the “deplorables” were in that survey sample.

    • rallysocks

      My problem is that I DID know these answers at one time, but the mists of time and other likely useless information has nudged it out of my memory banks. I envy people who can retain much of the information they learned in Jr. or Sr. High.

      I minored in History in college and you can ask me anything you want about the Lewis & Clark (but mostly Clark) Expedition, but that was 12 years ago, so i suspect I will be losing that as well…

      • Anna

        I was on a Quiz Bowl team in high school. We had a lot of stuff that had to be memorized and it just stuck with me.

        I’m sure if you had a brief review of what you learned it would come back to you. At least you would recognize it.

        Judging from this survey, I suspect there are many Americans who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it were put in front of them much less read to them.

        The point I was trying to make is that at least you were exposed to it. I’m not sure if they even require Civics anymore. It is just assumed that it will be covered in American History.

        And of course you are familiar with the “never assume’ rule…

        • rallysocks

          >>Judging from this survey, I suspect there are many Americans who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it were put in front of them much less read to them.<<

          Also, the Constitution the WAY IT SHOULD BE according to them 😉

          I was just wondering about Civics Classes as well–I mentioned it yesterday and got one of those "What, now?!" looks, so I'm guessing that it's another class that got mashed into another one to save time and money and learning to the test.

          • jon

            I had to take a civics class to get out of jr. high in IL, MN it was a high school level requirement so I had to take it again to graduate high school. (Which was total B.S. I took it in 8th grade, normal in MN was 9th grade, and since I didn’t have it at the highschool level I had to take it when I was a jr. in highschool… (though I worked the system there… long story)) but that was in the late 90’s.

            While I can’t find the statute on the mn revisors site http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/dse/stds/soc/ says that
            “The 89th Minnesota Legislature (2015-2016) passed legislation regarding “Required knowledge and understanding of civics” (Minn. Stat. § 120A.42, Subd. 3). This legislation states “Students enrolled in public schools must correctly answer at least 30 of the 50 civics test questions.” Schools or districts determine the logistics for administering the civics test questions and for recording the results.”

            They even link to the test questions: http://www.legacy.leg.mn/MN-Civics-Questions.pdf

          • rallysocks

            zomg…don’t get me started! My family moved a lot and my education is spotty in some areas and over-saturated in others. All I know is that coming from MN into a TX school, I felt like a genius because, wow…MN was very advanced. They actually had to make 2 classes just for me because I had all my credits to graduate by my Junior year there. They wouldn’t let me graduate, however, which is why I’m the only person I know who took Non-Athletic P.E. as a class.

        • I don’t think the structure of government is something you’d just “forget.” Sure, you might forget “legislative” or “executive” or “judiciary”, but would you just forget the system of checks and balances? Or the role of Congress? I don’t think this is like remembering somebody’s name.

          • It’s a sad state of affairs that most equate knowledge of our own government with “trivia answers.”

          • rallysocks

            Oh, definitely that’s one you should always be able to answer. But right at this moment I can’t recall how many Congress critters there are total or how they are allocated. My mother’s husband finds that to be shocking, but I’m like, “Eh, if I really need to know that, I can google it.”

  • jon

    So the 3 branches of government are Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic.

    The democratic nominee is a donkey and the republicans put up an elephant, just like every year.

    The first amendment is that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    This isn’t rocket surgery.

    • jon

      Forgot the supreme court justices… There used to be 9 but now there are only 8: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune (and the senate won’t confirm pluto to replace Scalia.)

      • Anna

        I like your style. Thanks for giving me my dose of laughter for the day!

  • BJ

    >Only 84 percent of those surveyed could name the Republican presidential nominee. Only 87 percent could name the Democratic presidential nominee.

    Only! I think those are great numbers 16 and 13% didn’t know! 4+ months before the election!

    Only like 30% of the people vote so that seems like a great number.

    • How disconnected from current affairs do you have to be to not know the answer to the question.

      Trick question. There’s only one answer: Completely.

      I wonder if they know Lindbergh made it? :*)

  • Fred, Just Fred

    Let’s all march down to the school district offices and demand that U.S. History and government be reinstated into the curriculum. Let’s write letters to the editor denouncing the failure of the public school system to produce educated citizens. Let’s sit down with our kids and talk about what America is and how it became what it is.

    Kids are mirrors on our parenting. Don’t blame people for ignorance you are responsible for.

    • Changed my avatar.

    • Rob

      Sounds good. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn would be an excellent lynchpin to a robust history and government curriculum.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        Teaching the inchoate twaddle of the likes of Howard Zinn is exactly why so many public schools graduate the ignorant mumpsimus’ we are discussing right now.

        Not only are important historical facts being left out to tell anecdotal footnotes of minorities that (because they were purposely excluded from positions of leadership) only contributed manual labor in building the finest, most successful country on Earth, the facts are being rewritten to describe a completely new narrative that never happened. Zinn is created straight out of Orwell’s worst nightmares.

        Let’s let Zinn tell us about it in his own words (from my tellingly titled copy of A People’s History of the United States: History Is A Weapon:

        I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America.

        The problem with history as presented by America hating leftists of Zinn’s ilk is that their desire to tear our country down, not to educate, but to completely replace it with a Communist Valhalla, makes a casualty of historical fact.

        I have no problem with teaching history from many viewpoints, in fact I applaud it; as long as it is factual and taught within the context of the time it happened. Here, Zinn proposes to teach US History by excluding the viewpoints, beliefs, goals and successes of the people that conquered the North American continent; replacing it with his interpretation of what he thinks others would have thought and said.

        Zinn continues [emphasis mine]:

        If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare

        History is not creative; it is not anticipatory; it is what it is. This is nothing but overt brainwashing, and thoughtful, intelligent human beings reject it outright.

        Despite what Zinn would have you believe, we have not always been at war with Oceania, Wilson. People that actually understand Zinn’s message find it deplorable unless they also believe Stalin got it right.

        • Rob

          Nothing you quoted from Zinn seems unreasonable, except from the perspective of the conqueror or the denialist. Have a nice day, Basket Guy.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Yeah well, that’s not much of a surprise. Like I said, you’d have to actually understand Zinn’s message to properly judge it. Most leftists sling his moniker around with no more thought or understanding than a chat room radical gives to sporting a Che avatar.

          • Rob

            Pray that I may shed my aberrant leftist ways and worship at your feet to obtain the proper understanding, oh wicker-centric one.

    • Jack

      Kids are somewhat filtered mirrors of their parents. Some things clique and some go through one ear and out the other. Yes, if the schools preached Noam Chomsky AND Howard Zinn there might be more interest. Or how about Ben Franklin and to which particular Native American tribe we base our democracy. What ever happened to that culture anyway?
      How well you retain information also depends on the sorts of dialog or conversation in your environment; the discussions had.
      Isolate and mutilate is the soup of the day!

      • Fred, Just Fred

        Yes, if the schools preached Noam Chomsky AND Howard Zinn there might be more interest.

        You think they don’t? I read echos of Zinn in the majority of comments and stories I read on leftist media sites; including this one.

        • Rob

          Is there an echo in here?

    • rallysocks

      I’m pretty sure that U.S. History and Government are still in the curriculum. Unless you are meaning the “U.S. History” and “Government” as filtered through YOUR lens?