Civics Poll: 1 in 4 Cannot Name a Single Branch of US Government

Civics Poll: 1 in 4 Cannot Name a Single Branch of US Government a constitution with a gavel (Dreamstime)

By Nicole Wells | Tuesday, 13 September 2022 01:46 PM EDT

Americans' basic knowledge of their government has taken a downturn, with a new poll finding that less than half could name all three branches of government.

The percentage of Americans who could name the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government fell by 9 percentage points from last year, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center's annual Constitution Day Civics Survey.

A quarter of those surveyed could not name a single branch of the U.S. government.

The number of respondents who could name any of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment also dropped across the board.

Freedom of the press was named by 20%, down 30 percentage points from 2021, and freedom of religion plunged 32 percentage points, from last year's survey, to 24%.

The right to assembly was named by 16%, a decline of 14 percentage points, and the right to petition the government fell to just 6%, a drop of 14 percentage points from 2021.

One in four individuals said they could not name any First Amendment freedoms.

Just over half of those surveyed incorrectly think the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech means Facebook must allow all Americans to express themselves freely on Facebook pages.

While the First Amendment protects citizens from censorship by the government, social media companies such as Facebook are private businesses and courts have ruled that such protections do not apply to them.

Among self-described conservatives, 63% think Facebook posts are covered by the First Amendment. Half of self-described moderates and 41% of self-described liberals think the same.

The percentage of Americans who incorrectly said the right to bear arms is a First Amendment freedom tripled to 9%. The Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

"When it comes to civics, knowledge is power," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a press release.

"It's troubling that so few know what rights we're guaranteed by the First Amendment," she continued. "We are unlikely to cherish, protect, and exercise rights if we don't know that we have them."

There were some bright spots in the survey's findings, however.

The poll found 78% know protection from "unreasonable searches and seizures" is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and 76% know that Congress cannot establish an official religion.

More than 80% knew the Supreme Court upheld that a citizen has a constitutional right to own a gun.

SSRS conducted the Civics Knowledge Survey on behalf of The Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) from Aug. 2-13 among 1,113 adults. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.