A new poll recently brought to light a scary statistic: Roughly one-third of American adults are unable to name a single branch of their federal government.
The poll, which was conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center ahead of this weekend’s celebration of the 229th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, showed that only 26 percent of respondents could identify the executive, legislative and judicial branches, while 40 percent could name only one or two.
Americans have been talking about the dumbing down of our culture for years, but the poll illustrates the degree to which its happening.
The annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey finds that:
- 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.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at the University of Pennsylvania. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”
According to a report about this issue, which was published in Fox News on Wednesday: “It’s easy to be an intellectual elite in a nation where not even half of the people know what kind of government they have. Possessing the knowledge we should expect of a sixth grader is nothing to boast about. This should be cause for deepening alarm, not selfish pride.”
Knowledgeable people are horrified by the angry mobs of “resisters” who denounce the founders of this country and confuse patriotism with bigotry.
It is telling that the researchers of this poll focused on a question about whether illegal immigrants have rights under the Constitution. “The appeal of partisan click bait is so great that even institutions supposedly devoted to preserving civic knowledge cannot resist,” noted the Fox report.
In fact, the poll results were published in an effort to make sure Americans respect the rights of illegal immigrants by devoting several paragraphs to the issue:
The APPC survey, conducted Aug. 9-13 among 1,013 adults in the United States, finds that 53 percent think that people who are here illegally do not have any rights under the Constitution. That incorrect belief is especially strong among self-identified political conservatives – 67 percent think it is accurate, compared with 48 percent of moderates and 46 percent of liberals.
In fact, immigrants who are in the United States illegally share some constitutional protections with U.S. citizens. More than a century ago, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), a case involving an undocumented Chinese immigrant, the Supreme Court ruled that non-citizens were entitled to due process rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. (For more on Yick Wo, see this video on Annenberg Classroom’s website.)
Most respondents, though not all, know that under the Constitution, U.S. citizens who are atheists or Muslim have the same rights as all other citizens. Seventy-nine percent of respondents know it is accurate to say that U.S. citizens who are atheists have the same rights as other citizens, and 76 percent know it is accurate to say that citizens who are Muslim have the same rights as other citizens.
The folks from APPC then went on to explain the Constitution’s First Amendment rights and the three branches of government, noting, “People who identified themselves as conservatives were significantly more likely to name all three branches correctly than liberals and moderates.”
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