Maybe reading the Constitution to open the 112th Congress wasn't such a bad idea after all.
First, the bad news: Americans given a basic Constitution/American civics quiz by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute failed miserably.
And now, even worse news: as bad as the general public performed on the quiz, elected officials fared even worse.
For five years now, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has been conducting a national survey to gauge the quality of civic education in the country. We've surveyed more than 30,000 Americans, most of them college students, but also a random sample of adults from all educational and demographic backgrounds.
Included in the adult sample was a small subset of Americans (165 in all) who, when asked, identified themselves as having been "successfully elected to government office at least once in their life" -- which can include federal, state or local offices.
But those elected officials who took the test scored an average 5 percentage points lower than the national average (49 percent vs. 54 percent), with ordinary citizens outscoring these elected officials on each constitutional question. Examples:
•Only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government, compared with 50 percent of the general public.
•Only 46 percent knew that Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war -- 54 percent of the general public knows that.
•Just 15 percent answered correctly that the phrase "wall of separation" appears in Thomas Jefferson's letters -- not in the U.S. Constitution -- compared with 19 percent of the general public.
•And only 57 percent of those who've held elective office know what the Electoral College does, while 66 percent of the public got that answer right. (Of elected officials, 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for "training those aspiring for higher political office.")
Words cannot describe how horiffic these results are. We can almost understand the failing grades of the unwashed masses given the state of our education system but for the political class who felt the call of public office to perform this poorly is downright frightening.
Full disclosure: we felt comfortable running that smack after taking the quiz ourselves.
So, whaddya say, gang? Want to take a crack at it? The 33 question quiz can be found here.
We scored 31 out of 33. We botched the Lincoln/Douglas debate question and a question later on about taxes where we just got lazy. Too bad. Two wrong is two wrong.
Let us know how you did.
Exit question: Was there an explicit limited government/free market slant to the questioning in the quiz?
Exit cheap shots: Wonder how our old friend Phil Hare, the Illinois Democrat who was voted out of office this past November, would fare on the quiz?
Maybe that was a little to "uncivil" for you. Perhaps our friend Pete Stark (D-CA) would do a little better.