Search This Blog

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surveys from the Center for the Constitution and the National Constitution Center

The Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier has surveyed Americans' understanding of the Constitution. Some highlights:
We asked several basic knowledge questions about government power that come directly from the Constitution. In the case of making and regulating money and making treaties, people knew that these were powers of the federal government at the same rate they reported understanding “some” or “a lot” of the Constitution. However, on the question of regulating interstate commerce, only 61% of the general public knows that this is a power reserved to the federal government.

Some of the confusion could come from our unique form of government. Federalism does require a sharing of certain powers, but Americans are mixed on whether or not there is a clear division of power between the state and federal governments. When asked which level of government has more power, 70% of the people think the division of power favors the federal government over the states. Only about 8% think the states have more power and 22% think the balance is about right.
Given the Founders’ great concern that the national government not become too powerful, it is a bit discouraging that only 35% of Americans believe that the Constitution limits government power. The differences between Democrats and Republicans regarding views of government power are illustrative perhaps of their philosophies. Democrats are much more likely to believe (45.5%) that governmental power is limited than are Republicans (29.5%), Independents (29.1%) or others (31.7%). Interesting differences are found between people in different age groups and levels of educational attainment.
One of the most important philosophical beliefs of the founders was in the “natural rights” of humans. It is disappointing that only 68% of the population believes that their rights to free speech and freedom of religion among others, are natural rights. Interestingly, 18-24-year-olds understand the source of basic rights better than the older age groups (82.2% versus 63.7% to 69.7%). No other demographic grouping had such stark differences.
The National Constitution Center (a different organization) and the Associated Press released their own poll. From the AP report:

Glum and distrusting, a majority of Americans today are very confident in — nobody.

Of what confidence there is in institutions, the military and small business are at the top in an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll released Thursday. But even they get very-confident or better ratings from well under half the people.

Blogs, banks and Congress get the most distrust.

What would people change if they were in charge? The poll found growing sentiment for legal protections for same-sex couples, with 58 percent saying they should have the same government benefits as married heterosexuals and nearly as many backing federal recognition of gay marriage. Respondents overwhelmingly opposed a stronger federal hand in two other areas: enhancing presidential powers to bolster the economy and requiring people to buy health insurance, as this year's health care overhaul law does.