1 in 5 Americans can’t name a single branch of the government, study finds

With a 3.6% margin of error, the study found 22% of respondents failed to name a branch of the government. (Source: Gray Image Bank)
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(Gray News) - The U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than 329 million people live in America and according to the findings of a new study, a fifth of them can’t name a single branch of the federal government.

For scale, that’s roughly 65 million people.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 1,104 adults between Aug. 16 and Aug. 27. With a 3.6% margin of error, the study found 22% of respondents failed to name a branch of the government.

Twenty-five percent could only name one branch. Fourteen percent managed to identify two.

The correct answer, executive, legislative and judicial, was given by only 39% of respondents.

Even so, these numbers show an improvement. Annenberg conducts this study annually and the percentage of correct responses hasn’t been this high since 2013 when 38% of people answered correctly.

In 2011, 32% got it right.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said this isn’t good enough.

“While this marks an improvement, the overall results remain dismal,” Jamieson explained. “A quarter of U.S. adults can name only one of the three branches of government and more than a fifth can’t name any. The resilience of our system of government is best protected by an informed citizenry. And civics education and attention to news increase that likelihood.”

Congress agrees. In January, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) sponsored the Civics Learning Act of 2019, which would appropriate $30 million to “prioritize innovative civics learning and teaching” in grade schools.

Sixty-two congressmen have cosponsored the bill.

Respondents who had taken a civics or government class in high school fared better than those without that background. Consumers of news, be it TV, digital or print, found similar success.

The survey asked other civics questions, which yielded better results:

-- Fifty-nine percent of people knew a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court meant “the decision is the law and needs to be followed.”

-- Fifty-five percent of respondents knew people who’ve entered the country illegally have some rights under the U.S. Constitution. Previously, most respondents incorrectly said those who entered the country illegally have no rights.

-- Fifty-three percent knew a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate was necessary to override a presidential veto.

-- Eighty-three percent knew the Supreme Court had held citizens have a constitutional right to own a handgun.

-- Sixty-one percent knew the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of actions by the president.

-- Fifty-five percent correctly said the Democratic Party holds a majority in the House of Representatives.
Sixty-one percent accurately said the Republican Party controls the Senate.

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