28 October 2022

Americans Need Civics Class

What are the three branches of the Federal Government? Easy right? This one is harder: Can you name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment? How about one more? Do undocumented immigrants have any rights under the Constitution?

Welcome back. In case you missed it, the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania released the results of its Civics Knowledge Survey on 17 September, Constitution Day.

Image depicting preamble to the Constitution (graphic from studyfinds.org/).
The goal of the national survey, conducted first in 2006 and annually since 2013, is to understand and track the public’s knowledge of U.S civics and government.

The survey and market research firm SSRS conducted this year’s survey for APPC. SSRS developed the sample design, interviewed 1,113 U.S. adults by landline (224) or cellphone (889) 2-13 August, and weighted the collected data. The weighting accounted for sampling probabilities and oversampling of prepaid cell phones. It also balanced sample demographics to represent U.S. adults 18 and older. The results have a margin of error of ± 3.6% at the 95% confidence level.

How Did We Do?

After improving for two years despite the pandemic, impeachment inquiries, a presidential election, the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and multiple social justice protests, we slipped on some key facts. I’ll review some highlights.

Government branches: 47% of survey respondents could name all three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial), which was down from 56% in 2021 and 51% in 2020. 25% of respondents could not name any branch, up from 20% in 2021 and 23% in 2020. 

Survey question: Would you mind naming any of the three branches of government? (table modified from CIVI3/CIVI4 Summary Table, cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Appendix_APPC_Civics_Sept_2022a.pdf).
First Amendment rights: When asked without prompting to name the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, fewer respondents could identify them than in the two previous years.

- Freedom of speech was named by 63%, down from 74% in 2021 and 73% in 2020.
- Freedom of religion was named by 24%, down from 56% in 2021 and 47% in 2020.
- Freedom of the press was named by 20%, down from 50% in 2021 and 42% in 2020.
- Right of assembly was named by 16%, down from 30% in 2021 and 34% in 2020.
- Right to petition the government was named by 6%, down from 20% in 2021 and 14% in 2020.
- 26% said they couldn’t name any or didn’t know, up from 17% in 2021 and 19% in 2020.
- The right to bear arms, guaranteed under the Second Amendment not the First, was incorrectly named by 9%, up from 3% in 2021 and 2020.

Survey Question: Can you name any of the specific rights guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution, or not? (**Data from Freedom Forum's State of the First Amendment Survey conducted by SSRS; modified table CIVI5 from cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Appendix_APPC_Civics_Sept_2022a.pdf).
One interesting Freedom of Speech spinoff survey question found that 51% of respondents incorrectly thought it was very or somewhat accurate that Facebook must permit all Americans to freely express themselves. (That’s down from 61% in 2021.) Courts have ruled that private companies are not covered by the First Amendment.

Some Good Scores:
- Protection from "unreasonable searches and seizures" appears in the U.S. Bill of Rights: 78% said very or somewhat accurate.
- Congress cannot establish an official religion of the US: 76% (also note, 88% said atheists have the same rights as other citizens).
- Congress can override a president’s veto if 2/3 of each house vote to override: 75% said very or somewhat accurate.
- The president can ignore a Supreme Court ruling if the president believes it is wrong: 72% said very or somewhat inaccurate.
- If the Supreme Court rules 5 to 4 on a case, the decision is the law and needs to be followed: 55%.
- The Supreme Court held that a citizen has a constitutional right to own a handgun: 81% said very or somewhat accurate.

Wrap Up
The Annenberg Public Policy Center was established in 1993 to educate the public and policy makers about communication’s role in advancing public understanding of political, science and health issues. Contact the center to learn about and access its resources.

Along with the Civics Knowledge Survey results reviewed here, the Annenberg Public Policy Center will soon release findings on the Supreme Court.

Oh, almost forgot. The final blog introduction question. The government decides who can enter the US and under what circumstances. Once here, however, even undocumented immigrants have the rights that citizens enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by.

Annenberg Public Policy Center and Civics Knowledge Survey:
2022 Survey results:
2022 SSRS and survey methodology: cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/APPC_Civics_survey_2022_Methods_Report.pdf
Example articles on 2022 survey:

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