Most Americans would fail U.S. citizenship test, study finds

October 3, 2018

It’s probably lucky most Americans are granted citizenship at birth a new study suggests they wouldn’t be able to pass the citizenship test if they had to.

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation conducted a multiple choice poll using questions roughly based on the test actually administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and found a shocking lack of knowledge.

Just 13 percent could identify 1787 as the year the Constitution was written. Most appeared to mistake it for the 1776 Declaration of Independence though two-thirds were able to identify Thomas Jefferson as the principal author.

Among the other founders, more people said Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb than were able to properly place him as the key diplomat who helped rope the French into the Revolutionary War.

Passing the actual citizenship test requires a score of 60 percent of better.

The foundation said just 36 percent of the 1,000 citizens they surveyed achieved that score.

“With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential,” Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine said. “Unfortunately this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

The poll found older Americans did better, with 74 percent of seniors answering enough questions correctly to have passed. Less than one in five Americans under 45 cleared the threshold.

Some of the questions were tricky. One gave four names Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Publius and asked which one was not an author of the Federalist Papers. Nearly half picked Publius, which was actually the pen name Hamilton, Madison and John Jay used to publish the papers. The correct answer was Jefferson, who was in Paris as a diplomat at the time the Constitution was being written.

Just one in five people knew there have been 27 amendments to the Constitution, and less than 25 percent were able to point to quartering of British troops in Americans’ households as a cause of the colonists’ revolt.

Americans did the best in identifying the 26th Amendment granting creating a national voting age of 18 years or older. Four in five got that right.

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