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)