The informed participation of citizens is vital to the success of any democracy.

Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founders and author of the Declaration of Independence, understood this concept well. He once remarked that America should “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people, as they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

However, research shows that Americans are remarkably inept when it comes to knowing our civics.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) recently conducted a “civil-literacy survey” which tested U.S. political, historical, and economic basics. Below are just some of the startling results garnered from this survey:

– Seventy-one percent of Americans failed the survey, with an average score of 49%. Just 2.6% scored B’s, and 0.8% earned A’s.- Only 49% were able to identify the three branches of government. – Forty percent of college graduates do not know that corporate profits equal revenues minus expenses. – Just 24% of college graduates know that the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the establishment of an official U.S. religion. – Self-identified elected officials scored worse on the test than did average Americans, averaging 44%. Thirty percent of them didn’t even know that the Declaration of Independence promotes “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

As evidenced above, Americans are completely unaware of how our nation became what it is today, leading me to question our ability to carry on our country’s legacy of freedom and liberty.

To combat this reality, universities should strengthen their curricula to address their students’ lack of civic knowledge. Every college student should have a solid background on the tradition of Western Civilization that influenced the actions of the American Founders.

It truly is frightening when you realize that the fate of our nation lies in the hands of an uninformed majority. Thankfully for the U.S., more Americans vote in American Idol than in the presidential elections.

To read more about ISI’s civics survey results and to take the quiz yourself visit

– Elizabeth Young