Would you fail a basic civics test? Most would…


CINCINNATI — Three out of four native-born Americans can’t explain what this country’s judiciary branch does.

More than 60 percent can’t name one of their two U.S. Senators.

How’s that for an informed citizenry!

Flunking citizenship

In the midst of the Presidential election, a new national survey from Xavier University reveals one in three native-born citizens failed the civics portion of the naturalization test, in stark contrast to the 97.5 percent pass rate among immigrants applying for citizenship.

Passing means answering 6 out of 10 questions correctly. If the pass rate were 7 out of 10, one half of native-born Americans would fail.

Xavier’s Center for the Study of the American Dream tested adult Americans on 10 random questions taken directly from the naturalization test.

In a concurrent survey, the center found that 77 percent of native-born citizens agreed that all Americans should be able to pass the test. Furthermore, 60 percent agreed that high school students should have to pass the naturalization test as a requirement for graduation.

Didn’t know governor. The center’s research persistently shows a strong distrust of our public institutions, particularly government and our political leaders, yet 59 percent of survey respondents could not name one power of the federal government, 77 percent could not name one power of the states, and 62 percent could not name the governor of their state.

“Civic illiteracy threatens the American Dream because it threatens the freedoms we treasure,” said Michael Ford, the Center’s founding director. “Civic illiteracy makes us more susceptible to manipulation and abuses of power.”

Basic questions

The survey found that native-born citizens do best with elementary school level questions such as: “What is the name of the President of the United States?”, “What is the capital of the United States?”, “Where is the Statue of Liberty?”, “Who was the first President?”, “When do we celebrate Independence Day?”, and “What are the two major political parties in the United States?”.

However, the highest incorrect scores consistently concern the U.S. Constitution, and the governmental, legal and political structure of the American republic and basic facts related to current political life and identification of key political decision-makers.

For example, when asked questions about our government and political leaders, the survey results found:

–85 percent did not know the meaning of the “the rule of law.”

–82 percent could not name “two rights stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

–75 percent were not able to correctly answer “What does the judiciary branch do?”

–71 percent were unable to identify the Constitution as the “supreme law of the land.”

–68 percent did not know how many justices are on the Supreme Court.

–63 percent could not name one of their two U.S. Senators.

–62 percent could not identify “What happened at the Constitutional Convention?”

–62 percent could not answer “the name of the Speaker of the U.S. House.”

“We certainly don’t expect everyone to know all the answers. For example, does it matter if we don’t know how many amendments there are? No. But almost 60 percent don’t even know what an amendment is,” explained Ford.

Education gap

The survey results did reveal a deep division among education levels. Only 44 percent of respondents with a high school education or less passed in contrast with an 82 percent pass rate among college graduates — a 38 percent gap.

Compared to the immigrant passage rate of 97.5 percent, college graduates underperform by 15 percent, while high school graduates underperform by 53 percent. The numbers were consistent among red states and blue states.

“The issue is not about sensationalizing who passed and who failed. It’s about what vote-eligible Americans specifically know and do not know in the midst of an important presidential election, after 12-18 years of school and 24/7 exposure to unfiltered multi-media,” said Ford.


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  1. This survey explains why it has been so difficult to get the average Ohioan to understand our Ohio Sovereignty Amendment. We started a people’s initiative 2 years ago to hold elected officials accountable to the Constitution by law, in other words, make it a crime when they do not uphold, protect or defend the Constitutions. Some people didn’t even know we had a state constitution. Then we try to tell them that a law does not have a specific process it goes through to check if it is constitutional and can even be considered a law to begin with. A person can write a bill, find a Senator or Representative to sponsor the bill; because of his oath, they should have decided if the bill is constitutional or not. But lets say they forget. Then the bill is assigned to a special committee depending on the topic, this is where the public can testify before a panel of senators or reps.(committees vary between houses and member quantity) and again the topic of constitutionality should be the first thing they ask, it isn’t. Then the bill is is voted on and if it passes the committee, it goes to the House floor where it originated from. Would you believe out of 33 senators only 1 mentioned the constitution on SB310? After it passes the senate it will go to the House of Reps and it starts all over. Then if the bill is still on its way to become a law, it ends up on the governor’s desk. Now he swore an oath of office also. It is the same covenant his General Assembly made to uphold, protect and defend the Constitutions, which one? Both of the silly! His job is to veto any bill that is unconstitutional. So if this bill still makes it through all those checks, now it is a law after the governor signs it, and now the law enforcement has to yes, you guessed it, they have to enforce the law. They swore an oath to protect the citizens from enemies foreign or domestic and are not required to enforce an unconstitutional law, which technically is null and void anyway, but guess what? The police are not trained in constitutional rights, but instead they are trained in the Ohio Revised Code and administrative procedures how to implement the new “laws”, whether they are lawful or not! I see a serious conflict when you have a few citizens who know which constitution will preserve their rights at home, which constitution preserves their rights abroad and a government assembly that ignores both, but makes their own codes and rules. The Peoples Constitution Coalition could really use some help getting this amendment passed so we can have a “more perfect union” and I can go back to watching my chickens peck. Thank you. Kim W, PCCOH Committee Member.


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