Study: One in Three Americans Fails Naturalization Civics Test

Native-born Americans fare worse on civics exam than immigrants applying for citizenship.

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As Americans prepare to pick the next president of the United States in November, a survey out of the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University finds that one out of three U.S. citizens fails the civics portion of the immigrant naturalization test. The survey of more than 1,000 voting-age Americans asked respondents 10 random questions from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics exam, which is administered as part of the immigration process, finding that 35 percent answered five or less questions correctly. More than 97 percent of immigrants applying for citizenship pass the test.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Native-born citizens fared best on questions related to history and geography and struggled most with questions about the function of government, specifically on questions about the Constitution and those that asked to identify current policy-makers. Other parts of the study show respondents were overwhelmingly confused about powers granted to the federal government and those granted to individual states.

Here are some questions that gave respondents the most trouble:

  • 85 percent could not define "the rule of law."
  • 75 percent did not know function of the judicial branch.
  • 71 percent were unable to identify the Constitution as the "supreme law of the land."
  • 63 percent could not name one of their state's Senators.
  • 62 percent did not know the name the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • 62 percent could not identify the Governor of their state.
  • 57 percent could not define an "amendment."
  • concurrent survey found that almost 77 percent of Americans believe that all native-born citizens should be able to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test and 60 percent think that passing it should be requisite for receiving a high school diploma.

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