Civics Knowledge in the US is Pitiful–How’s Yours?

Take this Civics Literacy Quiz and see how you do. Of 2,508 Americans who were randomly selected to take the quiz, only 29% passed. This is especially bad since the questions are 4-way multiple choice, so you essentially get 25% by guessing, and by their standards you only need 60% correct to “pass.”

You may want to go take the quiz before reading further, as there are some answers below.

College graduates only did a little better than those with just a high school education–about one extra question right per year in college. I don’t remember any civics related courses being required at my University, so I’m not too surprised. Also, the single worst category of knowledge by college graduates is “Free Markets vs. Centralized Planning,” and that one they actually did significantly worse (16.94%) than random chance. Click here for details about the results of the quiz.

Some things were really shocking: for instance, less than half of the people could pick out the three branches of government from multiple choice?! Only 27% know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States!! That’s only 2% better than random chance for crying out loud! Interestingly, the same percent of college graduates could name all three branches of government as first-time citizenship applicants on their citizenship test. Of course, on the new October 2008 citizenship test (PDF), they only have to name one branch.

On November 19th, I posted a video here about a scary interview and related Zogby survey of Obama voters on election issues. I wrote, “He also didn’t ask similar questions of McCain supporters, so we don’t know if they’re by and large equally uninformed.” These questions were general civics questions unlike the Zogby poll, but in this one self-identified Republicans and Independents only did 7 points better than Democrats (52% to 45%). So it’s a fair guess the McCain supporters wouldn’t have done too much better.

I got all but the last one correct (96%), by the way. I interpreted “per person” in (D) as each individual person–it would have been helpful if they included the word “average,” but I still should have gotten it. I did guess correctly on a couple, but I had eliminated all but two answers which is how multiple choice works. I think I would have gotten at least a B on fill-in-the-blank. I answered all 100 of the citizenship test fill-in-the-blank questions, though that’s not saying too much.

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