Could you pass the U.S. Citizenship test?

Explore the relationship between civics, immigration and the role it plays in gaining democratic citizenship.

May 14, 2012 - Author: ,

Immigration is a key issue in the upcoming presidential election. Civics and immigration are interestingly intertwined. In order for individuals to become citizens of the United States of America, the prospective Americans must demonstrate their ability to not only read and speak English, but also demonstrate their knowledge of basic American history, geography and the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship during an exam.

Last year Newsweek asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test. The results showed that 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president, 73 percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War, 44 percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights, and 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar. (If you’re interested, you can take the quiz to find out how you would score on the U.S. Citizenship test.)

In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans outscored American counterparts. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same despite the fact that the United States led the charge in Afghanistan. It was only the latest in a series of polls that have shown the U.S. lagging behind.

Galston explains that intuitively, it may seem implausible that civic knowledge is central to democratic citizenship. Why does it matter whether young people can identify their senators or name the branches of government? Surprisingly, recent research suggests important links between basic civic information and civic attributes we have reason to care about. The major findings may be summarized as follows:

  • Civic knowledge helps citizens understand their interests as individuals and as members of groups.
  • Civic knowledge increases the consistency of views across issues and across time.
  • Unless citizens possess a basic level of civic knowledge, especially concerning political institutions and processes, it is difficult for them to understand political events or to integrate new information into an existing framework.
  • General civic knowledge can alter our views on specific public issues.
  • The more knowledge citizens have of civic affairs, the less likely they are to experience a generalized mistrust of, or alienation from, public life.
  • Civic knowledge promotes support for democratic values.
  • Civic knowledge promotes political participation.

The Michigan State University Extension government and public policy work team provides broad forms of civics education for youth and adults. To learn more about this and other programs contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Tags: 4-h, citizenship & service, civic engagement, community, government, leadership, msu extension

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