Only 5% Of U.S. Adults Can Identify All First Amendment Rights According to Studies

The recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals intriguing insights into the knowledge and perceptions of U.S. adults regarding their Constitution.

Delving deeper into the results, we explore the understanding of First Amendment rights, attitudes toward the Supreme Court, and the impact of education on Constitutional knowledge.

The First Amendment And Its Rights

Only 5% of the respondents were able to correctly identify all five First Amendment rights. In contrast, 22% incorrectly mentioned the right to bear arms, which is protected under the Second Amendment.

When asked to enumerate the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the only right recalled by most respondents (77%) was the freedom of speech. Here’s a breakdown:

1. Freedom of speech: 77%

2. Freedom of religion: 40%

3. Right to assembly: 33%

4. Freedom of the press: 28%

5. Right to petition the government: 9%

Knowledge of the Three Branches of Government

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans were able to accurately identify the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches as the three distinct of their federal government. These branches, designed to distribute power and provide checks and balances, are fundamental components of the U.S. Constitution.

However, the survey also uncovered a notable knowledge gap among the remaining respondents. Ten percent could only recall two out of the three branches, indicating only a partial understanding of their government’s structure. Furthermore, seven percent could only name one branch, suggesting a limited comprehension of the division of power in their government.

The study also found that 17% of respondents could not name any branch of the government. This finding reveals a significant lack of basic civic knowledge in a notable portion of the population, highlighting the potential need for more robust civic education to enhance understanding of the foundational principles of the U.S. government.

Perceptions Of The Supreme Court’s Performance

Respondents’ attitudes toward the Supreme Court were probed, revealing that a slight majority (51%) expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s performance, while 49% approved. This distribution signals a shift from the prior year when approval was lower at 42%.

Further inquiries were made into participants’ understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision-making patterns. Upon being asked about the proportion of cases in the past year that were decided by unanimous or near-unanimous votes, only 22% correctly estimated that 41%-60% of decisions were reached with a 9-0 or 8-1 vote.

However, the typical respondent believed that only 35% of rulings were unanimous or near-unanimous. This discrepancy between perception and reality points to a lack of public awareness about the court’s decision-making dynamics.

An intriguing facet of public sentiment emerged regarding the court’s political neutrality. Many respondents held the view that Supreme Court decisions are “often influenced” by the justices’ political ideologies, raising questions about the perceived impartiality of this pivotal institution. Together, these findings create a multifaceted image of public understanding and perception of the Supreme Court.

Interpretation Of Supreme Court Rulings

A large majority of participants (71%) correctly comprehended that when the Supreme Court rules on a case with a 5-4 decision, it is binding and must be adhered to. This understanding is critical, as it reflects the public’s recognition of the Supreme Court’s authority.

Yet, misconceptions were evident among the respondents. A certain portion mistakenly believed that a 5-4 ruling means the decision is referred back to Congress (16%) or the Federal Court of Appeals (12%). This confusion may indicate a lack of understanding about the finality of Supreme Court decisions, suggesting an area for improvement in civic education.

As for constitutional disagreements, more than half of the participants (54%) correctly identified that it is the Supreme Court’s responsibility to ultimately determine the constitutionality of a president’s action. This awareness is key to understanding U.S. governance’s checks and balances systems.

Even so, inaccuracies persist. A notable 21% of respondents wrongly attributed this role to Congress, while 4% incorrectly thought that it falls under the president’s purview. An additional 21% admitted to being uncertain or lacking knowledge on this matter.

These results highlight a need for further public education regarding the roles and responsibilities of different branches of government, particularly the Supreme Court, in interpreting and enforcing the Constitution. They underscore the importance of such understanding in maintaining an informed citizenry capable of engaging in democratic processes.

First Amendment Rights And Social Media

Over half of the participants (53%) believed that the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech obligates Facebook to allow all Americans to freely express themselves on its platform. Conversely, nearly half of the respondents (47%) disagreed with this interpretation.

The Role Of Education In Civics Knowledge

In 2023, 59% of respondents with at least some high school education reported that they had taken a civics course in high school focused on the Constitution or judicial system. Similarly, a third of those with at least some college education (33%) said they had taken a college course that focused on the U.S. system of government and the Constitution.

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A Revealing Look

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s 2023 Civics Study provides a revealing look at the understanding of the U.S. Constitution among adults in the United States.

The results underscore the importance of civic education in fostering a thorough understanding of the Constitution, the structure of government, and the rights it confers.

As the digital age continues to reshape public discourse, the intersection of constitutional rights and social media also emerges as a critical area for public understanding. 


This article was produced by TPR Teaching. Source.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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