Civics knowledge among American adults jumps in new survey — but hold your applause


  • Only 51 percent of respondents correctly said the Supreme Court has the final responsibility for deciding whether an action taken by the president is constitutional, lower than the 61 percent in 2019.
  • And when asked what a 5-to-4 Supreme Court ruling means, only 54 percent correctly knew that the decision is the law and needs to be followed — a drop from 59 percent in 2019.

The survey, taken annually by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, found significant jumps in civics understanding on specific issues, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the center, said that could be a result of events during the Trump administration.

“Divided government, the impeachment process, and the number of times political leaders have turned to the courts probably deserve credit for increasing awareness of the three branches, while controversies over the right to peaceably assemble, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech may have done the same for the First Amendment,” she said in a statement.

Asked to name individual rights guaranteed to Americans under the First Amendment:

  • 73 percent correctly named freedom of speech, up from 48 percent in 2017
  • 47 percent named freedom of religion, up from 15 percent in 2017
  • 42 percent named freedom of the press, up from 14 percent in 2017
  • 34 percent named the right of assembly, up from 10 percent in 2017
  • 14 percent named the right to petition the government, up from 3 percent in 2017
  • The percentage of Americans who could not name any First Amendment rights fell from 37 in 2017 to 19 percent in 2020.

Fifty-one percent named all three branches of the federal government, up from 39 percent last year, the prior high point in 10 prior surveys going back to 2006. Another 17 percent could name two branches of government, but only 8 percent could name one branch, which was a drop from 25 percent in 2019.

The percentage of Americans who could name any of the branches of government was 23 percent, virtually unchanged from 22 percent recorded in last year’s survey.

In other areas, the survey found:

  • 56 percent of respondents agreed that Supreme Court justices set aside their personal and political views and make rulings based on the Constitution, the law and the facts of the case — a significant increase from 49 percent last year
  • Asked how much of a majority is required for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to override a presidential veto, only 47 percent correctly said it takes a two-thirds majority to override a veto. That was the lowest percentage since 2007.

The survey was conducted among 1,009 U.S. adults on Aug. 4-9, and the results are nationally representative of American adults 18 years and older. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Here’s the full report:

Here’s the appendix to the survey with comparative data from years past:



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