Good news: Your elected officials do NOT know the constitution – Take the poll UPDATE: Ed’s take

Well, I guess that makes the reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House a little more than a gimmick, heh?

Each year the Intercollegiate Studies Institute conducts a survey on civics to determine how well and how much our students are learning about how our Republic operates. It’s a great measuring stick, I think, but this year’s reveals so much more than how our kids are doing. In a stunning outcome … those who identified themselves as at some point being elected officials, knew less about government and the constitution than the general public.

But those elected officials who took the test scored an average 5 percentage points lower than the national average (49 percent vs. 54 percent), with ordinary citizens outscoring these elected officials on each constitutional question. Examples:

  • Only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government, compared with 50 percent of the general public.
  • Only 46 percent knew that Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war — 54 percent of the general public knows that.
  • Just 15 percent answered correctly that the phrase “wall of separation” appears in Thomas Jefferson’s letters — not in the U.S. Constitution — compared with 19 percent of the general public.
  • And only 57 percent of those who’ve held elective office know what the Electoral College does, while 66 percent of the public got that answer right. (Of elected officials, 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for “training those aspiring for higher political office.”)

Unbelievable … or is it? I thought most questions simple but then if you don’t believe there’s anything in that “really old” document applies to you, why would you know what’s in it?  Click here and take the test yourself. I scored 90% as did the Sound Off Son who pointed this out. My friend Tom, and co blogger, scored 80%. How bout you? Leave a comment.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey wonders if the sample is too small but … thinks the results are depressing still.

In one sense, this demonstrates that elections don’t always promote our best and brightest — but then again, most of us already knew that much.  But it does call into question how we can expect elected representatives to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States” when many of them appear not to comprehend it — and when many of us don’t comprehend it, either.  The biggest lesson here is that we need to do a much better job of teaching the Constitution in primary education … and that maybe a reading of the Constitution at the beginning of the session of Congress ought to be a regular event, with mandatory attendance.

15 replies
  1. weregettinghosed
    weregettinghosed says:

    Being smarter than an elected official may not be difficult, yet we may not answer correctly how to corrupt the people for that is not in our principles; therefore is this survey shedding some light on our ability to pick elected officials?  If we are smarter than why are we so weak in picking our officials? Hopefully, we are by majority awaken thereby a better choice shall be seen in future years.

    The questions were too easy, I scored 100% but, who could not get 90 to 100 percent easily? Ah the answer is simple, be an elected official, the questions will not only be difficult but perhaps impossible to answer and I dare say, they will likely blame someone else for their failure and demand the Constitution be changed after debating whether it is relevant in these progressive times.

  2. Plainvillian
    Plainvillian says:

    Why should we be surprised?  More importantly, what does it say about our cultural and electoral recidivism that returns the same venal and criminal people to office for life?

  3. Gary J
    Gary J says:

    Actually those elected officials did better than I would have guessed. The reason? They make the rules up as they go along.Also they don't know all the things they pass and vote on need to be justified by The Constitution. Just look at what congress and the Senate do…………………………

  4. GdavidH
    GdavidH says:

    I'm guessing the lack of knowledge or understanding of the Constitution stems from the education our elected officials chose to pursue, and where they pursued it. Liberal doctrine does not teach the document, it teaches the professor's interpretation of it.


    Many of our elected officials have medical or business degrees. Unless they chose to study constitutional law or American history, they may have no educational background in it. Even a law degree does not guaruntee an understanding of the Constitution, only the laws attributed to it.

     It is this way because there is no entry exam for the congress. But then, who would you have write that test?

  5. WagTheDog
    WagTheDog says:

    Not to toot my own horn, brag, or loured over people, but I got 100%  I guess I actually learned something in  elementary school.  That was in East Grand Rapids, MI in the mid '70s.  Hum…I wonder what they are teaching at Lakeside Elementary now?

  6. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    Ok. I got them all right, but you told us the answer to the hardest question, which was that the wall of separation does not appear in the Constitution. Honestly, I had no idea, so I would have had a 90%. I have to say a year ago I would have gotten the one about the Anti-Federalists wrong. The Tea Party has taught me a lot and we all know that few elected officials go to Tea Parties.

  7. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    What ever happened to "ignorance of the law is no excuse", particularly with regard to the supreme law of the land?

  8. bill88w
    bill88w says:

    Getting them all right was not hard.  In order to average 49% there must have been quite a few that were down around 30, can we get the names through an FOI request?

  9. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    sammy: I read that it was 165 out of more than 30K that self identified as having been elected to public office.  Any office though.  No idea of the relevance, although in my considered opinion, for even one government official to score significantly less than most new immigrants are expected to perform on their naturalization tests is pretty damning.


    It is kind of like hiring someone who doesn't know how to drive to drive a truck full of your personal belongings across the country…

  10. weregettinghosed
    weregettinghosed says:

    Whatever elected office any of these held, a prerequisite of holding a government office, no matter what capacity or level, must be, is expected to be, one of the understanding of our supreme law. The Constitution is not difficult to understand, the words clearly written leaves no room for wide interpretation, what is written is said for all basic citizens to understand. So, we must look at these officials scoring badly, are they ignorant in the supreme law or do the wrong answers come from the result of successful brain washing?

    The latter may give us cause to understand the extent of brainwashing of underground socialism existing long before anyone knew. Students are taught what the socialists need them to know for the eventual takeover, apparently it has worked well.

  11. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    Methinks you're joking weregettinghosed. The Constitution was written more than 200 years ago and our language, English that is, has changed considerably. Words like bus, car, airplane are not in it. Are they un-constitutional?

  12. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Why would the constitution address cars, buses or airplanes any more than it addressed horses or sailing ships?  People stopped "understanding" the Constitution when it became inconvenient to do so, and this coincided with the rise of "progressivism" in the country.


    The supreme law of the land is the supreme law of the land.  If they can't understand it, then they should get someone who can to explain it to them.  Like an eighth grader from the 1950's,


    If they can write brobdingnagian, incomprehensible, legalese filled bills like the Øbamacare farce, why can't they understand the Constitution?

  13. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    Unless I am sadly mistaken, 9 (nine) highly educated people experienced in the Law, wearing black robes seem to usually have a difficult time "understanding" what the Constitution "really" means. They spend a LOT of time trying to explain the constitutionality of legislation. Maybe if they read this blog everything would become perfectly clear.

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