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Americans' civics knowledge increases during a stress-filled year

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A growing number of Americans can name the branches of government and the freedoms under the First Amendment though many still misunderstand basic facts about how government works, according to the 2021 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey.
Percentage of those who can name the branches of government. From Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, conducted August 3-8, 2021, among 1,007 U.S. adults. Margin of error +/1 3.8 percentage points. Credit: Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Annenberg Public Policy Center's annual survey follows increased media coverage of the powers, functions, and prerogatives of the three branches in a year marked by an impeachment proceeding, a pandemic, a disputed election and unsuccessful efforts to overturn the results in the courts, an attempt to disrupt congressional certification of the electoral vote, protests over racial injustice and Covid-19 restrictions, and Supreme Court rulings on hotly debated issues like the Affordable Care Act.

"Higher proportions of the public have a foundational awareness of the three branches and the protections in the First Amendment," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. "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."

The Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey is a nationally representative civics knowledge survey conducted annually in advance of Constitution Day (September 17) by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The survey was conducted for APPC by SSRS, an independent research company, on August 3-8, 2021, among 1,007 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of ± 3.8 percentage points. For more details, see the Appendix.

The three branches and how government works

The three branches: The survey found a significant jump in the proportion of respondents who named all three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial. In 2021, 56% named all three, up from 51% in 2020. One in 5 (20%) could not name any.

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Science X staff
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