Newsweek just published one of those How Dumb Are We articles that seem to pop up every few years. We Americans never do very well, especially compared with the rest of the First World.
For as long as they’ve existed, Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators. . . . the yearly shifts in civic knowledge since World War II have averaged out to slightly under one percent.
This time the magazine surveyed 1000 people and the 100 questions were from the current test for US Citizenship. It seems most of us would fail. I tried to take the quiz and got up to #28 (of 100 questions), but honestly, the process is painfully slow so I just quit. Each question is on its own screen, then another screen for the answer which also shows the scores of the people surveyed. It was depressing:
- 70% of Americans don’t know what is the supreme law of the land
- 86% don’t know how many members of the House of Representatives
- 61% have no idea how long a Senator serves
- 63% don’t know how many justices on the Supreme Court
- 87% don’t know that the economic system in the US is capitalism
- 81% couldn’t name one of the enumerated powers of the Federal Government
- 73% couldn’t name the US enemy in the Cold War
Oddly, a full 58% do know that the Speaker of the House is third in line for the Presidency.
The accompanying article, in making the point that Americans have always been ill informed about their own government and country, said that now, however, “the world has changed. And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.”
In fairness, they describe some of the mitigating factors that contribute to why we fare so poorly against other developed nations, especially in Europe.
Most experts agree that the relative complexity of the U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up. In many European countries, parliaments have proportional representation, and the majority party rules without having to share power with a lot of subnational governments . . . In contrast, we’re saddled with a nonproportional Senate; a tangle of state, local, and federal bureaucracies; and near-constant elections for every imaginable office. . . It doesn’t help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world . . . we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.
If you have the patience to take the test (here) let us know how you did.