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Richard Rider

Only one in four Americans can name the three branches of government

I know that, from time to time, we all see these amazing examples of widespread public ignorance of fundamental facts about America.  But this one jumped off the U-T editorial page at me:  Only about one in four American adults can name all three branches of government.

Stated differently, three-fourths (actually 74%) of Americans — and presumably American voters — don’t know the three branches of our federal government.   Of course, this means that most Americans don’t understand America’s “separation of powers” principle, or what “checks and balances” are about.

Naturally as a geezer I am now compelled to point out that “back in my day,” we learned all this in a JUNIOR HIGH “government” class.  Sex-obsessed squirrel that I was in 8th grade, I still was inculcated with these all-important facts at that time.  Today it appears that most college grads can’t name these three branches.

The decline in citizen familiarity with this fundamental tenet of American government has been ongoing, and even accelerating.  The Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania, a reputable surveying nonprofit, has been tracking the answer to this question (and other similar civics questions) for years.

The most disconcerting fact in the study is that in 2011, a low 38% of those surveyed could name the three branches.  In this 2017 survey, only 26% could do that.  That means that a mere six years ago, 46% more Americans could answer the question correctly than today.

I take small solace in the fact that conservatives did better than liberals and moderates on this question (no surprise, except to liberals).  While the Annenberg summary reports this fact, the survey data is not accessible for exact percentages, but I doubt conservatives scored over 35% on the question.

If you’re not depressed enough by this survey, look at the survey responses to the First Amendment questions.  Excerpt:

Thankfully, 48 percent of those surveyed were able to identify freedom of speech as being a right enshrined by the First Amendment, although far fewer could identify other rights accorded.

These include freedom of religion (15 percent), freedom of the press (14 percent), right of peaceful assembly (10 percent), and right to petition the government (three percent).


I’m gonna have to buy a house with a higher roof to jump off of.