Each year the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania conducts a survey to measure civic knowledge among Americans. Called the Constitution Day Survey, Annenberg asks participants various questions about how the U.S. government is designed and how it functions — and how its current functionality is guided by The U.S. Constitution.
The survey is broken up into participants answering online — they are requested not to Google their answers — and others who are reached through what Annenberg labels RDD Phone (Random Digit Dialing). Note: from its inception in 2006 until 2021, the Constitution Day survey was conducted exclusively via RDD; online capabilities were added in 2022.
With the 2023 Constitution Day survey from @APPCPenn, the need for more civics/social studies education is clear. Daily time for SS/civics needs to begin in Kindergarten & empower students to be inquisitive, informed, & engaged participants in civic life. https://t.co/luS8ixxqiU pic.twitter.com/Wqmhqxvzys— Scott Abbott (@scotteabbott) September 19, 2023
In one astonishing metric that illustrated a large discrepancy between online and phone participants, among the RDD Phone participants fully 1 in 4 or 25% could not name a single branch of government, while just 47% could name all three branches. Among the online participants, 66% named all three branches and 17% failed to name a single branch.
Such futility in answering basic questions about governmental process — or much else — will be familiar to anyone who has watched popular late night comedy “person on the street” segments, where hosts interview random strangers to reveal the often stunning lack of practical knowledge possessed by the “person on the street.”
The Annenberg survey did produce some stronger results when it came to understanding the Supreme Court’s decision-making role, with 71% knowing that a 5-4 SCOTUS decision was as decisive as a 9-0 decision. (This fell to 55% among those on the phone.) Another discovery: The multiple rights guaranteed and codified in the First Amendment were commonly dominated by “free speech” in participants’ view, with the “right to assembly” coming to mind the least.
Annenberg explained how it designed to survey taking a high school civics class as baseline knowledge, It “created a knowledge index comprising five items: 1) correctly naming all three branches, 2) correctly naming all 5 First Amendment rights, 3) saying it is inaccurate that the First Amendment says Facebook must permit all Americans to freely express themselves on Facebook pages, 4) saying the Supreme Court has the final say about whether a law is constitutional, and 5) knowing the meaning of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.”