Many Americans’ have little knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, a survey has found.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted its annual civics survey for the past 18 years. The survey focuses on civic knowledge and is released every year in time for Constitution Day – September 17.

The 2023 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey found disheartening statistics; many Americans are entirely unaware about the basic freedoms they enjoy and are ignorant about key facts of the U.S. Constitution.

The survey found that two-thirds of American adults can name all three branches of the federal government – executive, legislative and judicial. However, 10% can name just two; 7% can name only one; and 17% could not name any branches.

Photo Credit: Annenberg Public Policy Center

The survey found that a majority of Americans could name only one of five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When asked to name their First Amendment rights, the survey found:

  • Three-quarters (77%) name freedom of speech.
  • Less than half (40%) name freedom of religion.
  • A third (33%) name the right to assembly.
  • Just over a quarter (28%) name freedom of the press.
  • And less than 1 in 10 (9%) know the right to petition the government.

Only 5% could correctly name all five rights; 30% could name three or four; 46% could name one or two; and 20% could not name any.

Photo Credit: Annenberg Public Policy Center

Respondents were also asked, “If the president and Supreme Court differ on whether an action by the president is constitutional, who has the final responsibility for determining whether it is constitutional?”

Barely half (54%) of respondents correctly said the Supreme Court; 21% said Congress; 4% named the president while 21% said they didn’t know or were unsure.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and director of the survey, said, “It is worrisome that one in six U.S. adults cannot name any of the branches of government and that only 1 in 20 can name all five freedoms protected by the First Amendment,” adding,

One is unlikely to cherish or work to protect freedoms one does not know one has and will have trouble holding elected and unelected leaders accountable if one does not understand the nature and prerogatives of each branch and the ways in which the power of each is kept in check.

First established in 2004, Constitution Day is a federal holiday created for Americans to celebrate the signing of our nation’s founding charter. On September 17, 1787, the 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, recognized the importance of civic knowledge. Madison wrote in an 1825 letter to George Thompson, “The advancement & diffusion of Knowledge … is the only Guardian of true liberty.”

Likewise, in his Farewell Address to the nation given on September 17, 1796, former President George Washington extolled the necessity of the public’s civic knowledge. He wrote:

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions ‘for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a representative democracy, the American people are responsible for the government of the United States. We, as voting citizens, direct her course and guide her future.

Without knowledge of how our Constitution works, we cannot exercise our role in self-government in a prudent and wise way.

When it comes to educating the public in civic knowledge, as this year’s Constitution Day survey shows, there’s still much work to do.

You can learn more about America’s Founding Fathers and the importance of preserving our moral and religious freedoms by listening to Tim Goeglein’s recent appearance on the Focus on the Family Broadcast titled “A Hopeful View of America’s Future.”

Related articles and resources:

A Hopeful View of America’s Future

Today is Constitution Day: Let’s Celebrate the Document That Made America

Are You Registered To Vote? If Not, Today is the Day to Do It.

Freedom & Faith

The Importance of Voting (broadcast)

Voting as a Kingdom Citizen (broadcast)

Why Liberty Requires Responsibility (broadcast)

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