Elected Officials Fail Civics Quiz

In today’s bread and circuses world, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Americans overwhelmingly fail a quiz on civics. What is slightly surprising is that our elected officials do even worse:

Are most people, including college graduates, civically illiterate? Do elected officials know even less than most citizens about civic topics such as history, government, and economics? The answer is yes on both counts according to a new study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33 question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an “F.” Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent (or 21) of all surveyed earned an “A.” Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Now, I went to their website, and took the quiz. It’s surprisingly harder than I thought it would be. I do have one criticism, in that several of the questions are very confusingly worded, and several appear to be free-market biased, which I agree with but may not be entirely objective. But if you have a basic understanding of American history and civics, you should be able to do fine.

It’s striking, though, that our elected officials are unable to pass this quiz. These are the people responsible for our government, and they don’t know the history or role of government. The questions are somewhat difficult in a few cases, but there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be easy knowledge for anyone who would have the temerity to run for political office.

If these guys can’t be bothered to know about America, why is it that we grant them the power to run it?

Check out the quiz, and feel free to post your scores in the comments section. I was a bit disappointed, as I only answered 32 of 33 correctly…

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    I got 29 of 33 (87.88%). Not quite as well as you did but overqualified to hold public office.

    I missed questions 27, 29, 30, & 33.

  • Nick M.

    31/33 (93.94%)

    Missed #11 & #33.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    #33 is the one I missed as well. Sounds to me like that was a very poorly worded question if it got all three of us.

  • Paul

    I got 33 right. It’s clearly worded. Perhaps you forgot about having to pay interest on previous debt.

    Please don’t feed this troll.

  • thomasblair


    Missed #30. Governments have reacted in all sorts of ways. FDR responded by raising taxes and spending. Bush lowered taxes (this is debatable) and raised spending.

  • Akston

    29 out of 33. I missed 4, 8, 30 and 33.

    I read 30 to be “Which of the following fiscal policy combinations should a government most likely follow”. As to what they would follow, wouldn’t that depend on the people in government at the time?

    On 33 “If taxes equal government spending, then…” I realize the algebra involved (t=s, therefore t/p = s/p), but I my first couple readings assumed “government spending per person” meant spending on that person, rather than spending supported by that person. My mistake.

    As for 4 and 8, I have no excuse. :-)

  • http://theholycause.blogspot.com/ Greg

    I got 32/33, having missed #8.

    I think #27 has two potentially correct answers, but it is somewhat obvious which one of the two they are looking for.

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy


    Missed 7 & 13. Despite what Paul says, I think 33 could be clearer. I get the whole debt vs. deficit thing, but like Akston, I got hung up on what the right answer would be before finally going with the taxes & spending per person being equal.

  • tfr

    I got 100%
    Can I get some bailout $billions out of this?

  • Akston

    Can I get some bailout $billions out of this?

    I’m sorry, at 100% you were far too successful to qualify for Bailout Billions™, the new game by HasbeenBro. Bailout Billions are only available to miserable failures. However, at 100%, you do qualify for Sacrificial Lamb Status. Much like taxpayers who didn’t default on their mortgages are now paying (via devalued dollars) for companies threatening to fail due to investment in mortgage-backed securities, you must now retake the test for each of us that missed questions and provide the right answers.

  • ed42

    Missed 3 [7,14,29] (got 30 out of 33 correctly — 90.91 %)

    I’d argue that E. (government pays for its construction, not citizens) for 29 ought to get at least 1/2 credit 8-)

  • Cheryl

    I just took the test and get 81.82%.
    I missed #4,7,8,17 and 33.
    Seems a lot of people were confused, as I was on the wording of that one.