After two years of considerable improvement, Americans’ knowledge of some basic facts about their government has fallen to earlier levels, with less than half of those surveyed able to name the three branches of government for the 2022 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual, nationally representative survey showed notable increases in 2020 and 2021 after tumultuous years that put the role of government and the three branches under a media spotlight. In those two years, the survey was run amid a pandemic and government health restrictions, two impeachment inquiries, a presidential election, an attempt to disrupt congressional certification of the electoral vote, criminal trials of the individuals charged in the assault on the U.S. Capitol, and waves of social justice protests, among other events.
The current survey, released for Constitution Day (Sept. 17), found the first drop in six years among those who could identify all three branches of government, and declines among those who could name the First Amendment rights, though knowledge remained high on some other questions. Additional findings on the Supreme Court will be released next month.
“When it comes to civics, knowledge is power,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s troubling that so few know what rights we’re guaranteed by the First Amendment. We are unlikely to cherish, protect, and exercise rights if we don’t know that we have them.”
- Less than half of U.S. adults (47%) could name all three branches of government, down from 56% in 2021 and the first decline on this question since 2016.
- The number of respondents who could, unprompted, name each of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment also declined, sharply in some cases. For example, less than 1 in 4 people (24%) could name freedom of religion, down from 56% in 2021.
- Over half of Americans (51%) continue to assert incorrectly that Facebook is required to let all Americans express themselves freely on its platform under the First Amendment.
- But large numbers recognize other rights in the Bill of Rights and the veto process.
The Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey is a nationally representative survey conducted annually in advance of Constitution Day by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. This year’s survey of 1,113 U.S. adults was conducted by phone for APPC by independent research company SSRS on August 2-13, 2022. It has a margin of error of ± 3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The year-to-year changes reported here are statistically significant unless noted otherwise. For the questions and additional data, see the appendix and the methodology statement.