A new poll released Tuesday found that just 56 percent of Americans can correctly name the three branches of government — the highest percentage since 2006.
The Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey, an annual survey conducted by Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, quizzes 1,000 American respondents on a range of civics knowledge questions. This year’s poll found the highest percentage of Americans to correctly identify the three branches of government since 2006, when just 33 percent of respondents were able to list the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
The survey also asked respondents to correctly list the five rights protected under the first amendment. 74 percent of respondents correctly listed freedom of speech as one of the rights of the first amendment, up from 48 percent in 2017.
56 percent of respondents also knew the first amendment protects the freedom of religion. 50 percent knew the first amendment protects the freedom of the press. 30 percent knew the first amendment also protects the right to assembly, a drop from 34 percent last year. 20 percent knew the first amendment protects the right to petition.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center linked the rise in civic knowledge to the contentious political environment over the last year, which saw protests and riots throughout several major U.S. cities, disputes over the results of the 2020 U.S. elections, and an effort to impeach Donald Trump after demonstrators entered the U.S. Capitol in January.
“Higher proportions of the public have a foundational awareness of the three branches and the protections in the First Amendment,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said of the survey results. “But this knowledge appears to have been purchased at a real cost. It was a contentious year in which the branches of government were stress-tested.”
Overall, the poll associated high school and college civics courses with a higher percentage of correct responses to survey questions. In 2021, 59 percent of respondents said they had taken a civics course in high school that focused on the Constitution or judicial system, about the same as in previous survey years. 48 percent of respondents said they had taken a college course that focused on the U.S. system of government and the Constitution, up from 38 percent in 2019.
One question included in this year’s poll asked respondents whether it was constitutional to arrest those who entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6 “to disrupt the certification of the presidential election.” 49 percent of respondents said arresting people at the Capitol was unconstitutional because they were exercising their constitutional right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. An equal number of respondents, 49 percent, said arresting those who entered the Capitol did not violate the Constitution.