Welcome to the age of ignorance
America’s body politic always has been infected with an unhealthy amount of civics ignorance. The alarming thing about a new survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania is that the infection is spreading.
In a survey of more than 1,000 adults about the Constitution, as its 230th anniversary approaches, Annenberg found that:
n 37 percent could not identify a single right protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and to petition the government).
n Only 26 percent could name all three branches of the government. In 2011, 38 percent could name all three branches.
n One in three, 33 percent, could not name any branch of government.
n 53 percent said the Constitution provides no rights to undocumented immigrants, even though the 14th Amendment mandates due legal process without regard to citizenship or legal standing, as decided by the Supreme Court more than 100 years ago.
On those questions and others, the percentage of responses reflecting civics ignorance all grew in the wrong direction from survey results in previous years.
The results of the poll are not lost on politicians, who increasingly pander to the civically ignorant through fear. In multiple races for state legislative seats around the country last year, for example, candidates vowed to oppose the imposition of Sharia Law, a Muslim religious code, which is proscribed by the First Amendment.
These results demonstrate that the nation needs a new commitment to civics education.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are,” Annenberg Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson said.