New Survey Shows a Disturbing Trend: Most Americans Have No Clue What is in the Constitution

by Jen Hayden –

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania have released the downright disturbing results of a recent survey that shows a majority of Americans don’t know anything about their rights or the rights of others according to our own Constitution. Read it and weep:

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.

The responses to the First Amendment are downright depressing:

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government.

And, if you think that’s bad, this is even worse. The one area on the survey where conservatives were more likely to get the correct answer(s) occurred when people were asked to name all three branches of government.

Only 26 percent of respondents can name the three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), the same result as last year. People who identified themselves as conservatives were significantly more likely to name all three branches correctly than liberals and moderates. The 26 percent total was down significantly from APPC’s first survey on this question, in 2011, when 38 percent could name all three.

In the current survey, 33 percent could not name any of the three branches, the same as in 2011.

How did we get here? The Atlantic says the decline in civics classes was accelerated during the George W. Bush administration and the launch of No Child Left Behind:

Despite this extra focus on math and science, social studies managed to make it through the end of the Cold War relatively unscathed (in fact, the number of classroom hours dedicated to teaching social studies in grades 1-4 peaked in the 1993-1994 school year at 3 hours a week). But drastic change came a decade later with the passage of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation.

No Child Left Behind was signed into law in an attempt to address the growing achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. It was a controversial piece of legislation from the start, mainly because of its “one size fits all’” approach: It uses annual standardized tests to determine how well students are performing in reading and math and then uses those scores to determine the amounts of federal funding schools receive.

Besides the obvious criticism that low-performing schools–arguably the ones that need the most increase in funding–are disproportionally punished for their low scores, critics also believe that No Child Left Behind has narrowed the curriculum. Since the standardized tests focus exclusively on English and math, and those scores determine the bulk of a school’s federal funding, schools have been forced to increase time and resources in these subjects at the expense of all others, including social studies.

It would appear that We the People of the United States need to get back to the basics and Make Civics Classes Great Again. In the meantime, let’s refresh with a classic: the Schoolhouse Rock lesson on the Constitution.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos