Amid the year’s news cycle of coronavirus, lockdowns, protests, impeachment proceedings, and noteworthy Supreme Court cases, a new survey indicates Americans became more knowledgeable about the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment.
According to the annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, more people were able to name the three branches of the federal government and the five rights protected by the First Amendment.
Survey results show:
- 51% of Americans correctly named all three branches of the federal government, which is up from 39% who were able to do so in 2019.
- 73% of Americans accurately named freedom of speech as a First Amendment right, an increase from 48% who did so in a 2017 survey.
- 42% of Americans accurately identified freedom of the press as a First Amendment right, up from 14% in 2017.
- 34% of Americans listed the right to peacefully assemble as a right granted under the First Amendment, up from 10% who identified the right in 2017.
- 47% of Americans noted freedom of religion as a First Amendment right, a jump from 15% in 2017.
- 14% of Americans named the right to petition the government as a First Amendment right, which increased from 3% in 2017.
- 19% of Americans couldn’t list any right guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is a decrease from 37% who couldn’t do so back in 2017.
“People misunderstand the First Amendment,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who runs the Annenberg Public Policy Center, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not about whether you can say something to your neighbor. It’s to protect you from the government. The government can take away your liberties otherwise.”
More Americans also believe the Supreme Court is impartial. Fifty-six percent of Americans say they believe that justices make their rulings based on the Constitution, law, and facts of the case, rather than their personal and political views. Last year, only 49% of Americans felt that way.
Dr. Jamieson said the shift could be related to the more liberal court decisions made this summer by a conservative majority bench. The high court upheld the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and also ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination by employers because of sex.
While Americans brushed up on their First Amendment rights this year, they didn’t perform well on other topics related to civics.
The poll found that less people knew that the Supreme Court has final say over whether a presidential action is constitutional. In 2019, 61% of Americans who were asked the question responded correctly, compared to 51% this year.
Less Americans also understood that a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court means the decision becomes law. Last year, 59% answered correctly compared to 54% this year.
Fewer Americans also knew that it takes a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and House to override a presidential veto. Last year, 53% of Americans knew how many votes it would take. This year, only 47% of Americans responded correctly.
The survey polled 1,009 Americans between Aug. 4-9. The results were published last week. The survey’s margin of error is ± 3.6%.
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