Abiola_Lapite's photos More of Abiola_Lapite's photos

« Blondes Not Going Extinct | Main | A Small Sign of Progress? »

March 01, 2006



"To think each and every one of these people can vote! Is that scary or what?"

That's the kind of thing that led Plato to give up on democracy, and he's not alone.


Eh? Being a constitutional scholar doesn't help you make a good choice when voting, it's the evaluation of the candidates which the voter is to determine.


I'm a little skeptical of the real import of this survey - for example, I'm not at all impressed by the fact that no one can name all five freedoms on the spot in a telephone interview especially when it rather depends how you count (eg I would never have thought to list "petition the govt for redress of grievances"). That most people can't name any of them is more worrying, but I would tie this to not knowing where freedom of speech/religion/etc is located in the constitution. If you asked people "true or false, you have a constitutionally protected right to free speech" I would expect (or hope at least) that most people would get it right.


[ That most people can't name any of them ]

Wait, I take that back - it says that only 1 in 4 can name more than one freedom, suggesting that more than 1 in 4 (possibly a majority) can name at least one.


Hm, as I suspected, if you look at the actual survey report, it says that 72% of Americans could name at least one freedom. 70% knew that freedom of speech is in the First Amendment. In fact, if you prompt them ("is X protected by the First Amendment") 78% know that freedom of religion is in there. Many of the other errors cited in the study are people attributing rights found in other Amendments to the First Amendment (guns, due process, etc), which to be honest I'm not too concerned about. And again, if you gave a forced true/false choice, do you have freedom of speech, you'd get even more correct answers.

In fact, more Americans could name at least one First Amendment right (72%) than could name at least one Simpsons character (65%). The fact that memory of rights declines faster on the First Amendment can be readily explained by the fact that those rights are not as obviously linked as the Simpsons characters (eg once you remember Bart, you'll remember Homer choking him, then Marge complaining about Homer, then Marge carrying around Maggie etc), and that rights can be more easily conflated than characters (eg it might not occur to you that speech and press are enumerated as different rights).

The survey is pretty flawed too - For example, they have this nice little graph showing that people recalled which company goes with which ad slogan (eg, Duracell "keeps going and going and going") better than First Amendment rights, but then sheepishly admit that this "may be slightly unfair" because the First Amendment question was open-ended ("please name the First Amendment rights") while the ad slogan question was prompted ("which company has this slogan?").

The other issue is that the people who did this study have a pretty strong incentive to overestimate American ignorance of First Amendment rights, since their entire raison d'etre is to educate the public about First Amendment rights.


Language Log has a nice takedown on the press release for this survey...


I seem to remember a survey a few years ago about attitudes towards the Bill of Rights. When asked what they thought, people were mostly favorable. But when told what the various protected rights were, the favorable response dropped. I cannot remember any particulars of it, but results like that worry me more than this survey.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Notes for Readers