The Duncan Banner

August 19, 2013

Civics survey prompts need for cool libations

Jeff Kaley
The Duncan Banner


Many moons ago, somewhere in America, I was with friends at an establishment that served cool libations. As the night progressed and cool libations began causing jaw slippage, we started debating politics.
Somehow, the subject turned to the electoral college and a male friend, who didn’t need cool libations to sound like a nitwit, couldn’t resist. “Electoral college?” he blathered. “I didn’t know you had to get elected to go to college! No wonder I didn’t get a degree!”
A few snickers followed his bad pun, but most of us gave the guy a look that said, “Duh! No more cool libations for you!”
You’re asking yourself, why am I unveiling this blast from my past?
For one thing, my wife will read that dopey electoral college joke and immediately conclude I’m the one who told it. She’s somehow come to believe if a dumb joke has been spewed, I’m probably the spewer.
However, this time I’m innocent. That stupid joke was actually spewed by... uh, I shouldn’t say. Karen already thinks this particular friend of mine is a slice of bread short of a sandwich.
The reason that bad pun from long ago came to mind was this: I’ve read results of a survey a well known culture magazine conducted and it reveals scary things about the future of American politics.
The civics survey involved 300 young adults, ages 19 to 35, who were asked 15 questions about politics, government and history. Among the participants, 230 said they had at least some college education.
Well, it’s not yet Halloween, but results of the survey are as frightening as Jack Nicholson chasing Shelley Duvall around in The Shining. The lack of political, government and history knowledge revealed makes you quiver over the future of the Republic.
A few examples:
Of the 300 young folks surveyed, only eight correctly answered all 15 questions.
One question was: Who is the governor of your state? Two dozen answered incorrectly.
Asked to locate their state and Iran on a world map, 11 got their state wrong, and 64 percent couldn’t pinpoint Iran.
Only 18 percent could identify the nation’s first five presidents. (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.)
Just 4 of 10 could name the three branches of American government (executive, legislative and judicial), and one sad soul answered: Republicans, Democrats and Undecideds.
Sixty-two percent said Franklin D. Roosevelt was the son of Teddy Roosevelt. (They were cousins.)
Half knew the Supreme Court rules on matters of constitutionality; the rest thought Congress deems what is or isn’t constitutional.
Although 70 percent knew Abe Lincoln was president during the Civil War, fewer than half knew the Civil War occurred in the 1860s. (Two people thought the Civil War was in the 1920s!)
A whopping 77 percent knew Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois before becoming president, but a paltry 31 percent knew Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware when he ran for vice-president on the Obama ticket.
About 30 percent knew John G. Roberts was the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; only 24 percent pegged Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female appointed to the Supreme Court.
Seven of 10 knew the Constitution was ratified by the 13 original states, but just 25 percent could name all 13 original states. Wrong answers included Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and, gulp, Philadelphia.
And, yes, when asked about the function of the electoral college, one young wag — obviously, the spawn of my dumb-joke-tellin’ friend — answered, “Since when did you have to get elected to college?”
Were this not enough to give you visions of our political system dissolving into anarchy, consider this: Only 39 percent knew there were 100 U.S. senators.
Oy, vey! It’s time for a round of cool libations.