The Intersection

What’s Your Civic Literacy?

John Lynch over at Stranger Fruit recommended this quiz by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute featuring 33 questions designed to measure knowledge of America’s founding principles, political history, international relations, and market economy. According to ISI, 71% of Americans fail and the average score is 49%.

I got 85% (28 out of 33). See how you do


  1. #1 Mike
    November 23, 2008

    I got 85%, and I’m British and live in the UK. Perhaps I’ve been reading a little too much US election coverage…

  2. #2 Zeno
    November 23, 2008

    Mike, if you picked up all that from reading US election coverage, you must have read much better than average coverage.

  3. #3 Walker
    November 23, 2008

    I got 93%. (31 out of 33).

    The ones I missed were because the concept being defined was quite technical. It was clear from reading the “public good” question on levees that they were using some narrow definition of public good, not a moral argument. So I just guessed (wrongly) on that one.

    That and the answers for the tax=spending question were a bit ambiguous.

  4. #4 Ben
    November 23, 2008

    91% (30/33) – who knew that the Puritans were OK with some wars?

  5. #5 sng
    November 23, 2008

    You answered 32 out of 33 correctly — 96.97 %

    I would really love to see the answers broken down by age group since this was all basic middle school civics for me.

  6. #6 sng
    November 23, 2008


    Are you sure you aren’t thinking Quakers? The Puritans have no strong tradition of pacifism. And in fact they were the main parliamentarian force in the English Civil War.

  7. #7 Ian
    November 23, 2008

    Non-American (but I live in the US), got 31/33. Parts of it bothered me, since they were based more on ideology than reality. Then I realised that it was ISI. Ugh. I’m really glad I didn’t give them my email address. Far-right anti-academia ideologues. I feel like I need to take a shower after venturing into their domain…

  8. #8 Josh
    November 23, 2008

    90.91% (30/33). At least it says the average for november is pretty high… 77%…

  9. #9 Tony P
    November 23, 2008

    I got an 81%, 27/33. I flubbed the Gettysburg address and a few others but it astounds me that our politicians know less than I do.

    I made that point at work the other day. I said “The only requirement to be a politician is that you are of a certain age. That worked back when the life expectancy was 40 to 45. Not now though.”

  10. #10 Zeno
    November 23, 2008

    33 out of 33 for me. I think that’s 100%.

  11. #11 jules
    November 23, 2008

    From Belgium, in a language that isn’t my native tongue, i still scored 66%.
    Amazing how much you learn when 50% of the programs on your TV are American sitcoms.

  12. #12 Doug Alder
    November 23, 2008

    You answered 25 out of 33 correctly — 75.76 %

    But then I’m a Canadian and have never studied US history or civics 🙂

  13. #13 Alex Besogonov
    November 23, 2008

    90.90% (30 of 33) 🙂

    Not bad, considering I’m not even from America.

  14. #14 Mike
    November 23, 2008

    84.85% for an Australian. I think the fact the only US TV news I get to see is PBS’s Newshour probably helps.

  15. #15 Matt
    November 23, 2008

    question 25 – idealized free enterprise
    question 27 – WTF, not surprising from ISI – is this even true?
    question 30 – isnt what is being proposed now is to increase upper level tax levels and increase government spending
    question 31 – yay unregulated globalization

  16. #16 ralph137
    November 23, 2008

    Got 90+ and I live in Tennessee.

  17. #17 Pat
    November 23, 2008

    I’m sorry, but this is nothing more than a neo-con push poll. Its laudable that we all seem to score well, but clearly the economics questions are designed to emphasize free-market, decentralized government, and strict Constitutionalist policies. I appreciate a knowledge of history as much as anyone, but I’m much more concerned about what my elected officials and fellow voters understand about our country as it exists NOW.

  18. #18 RSG
    November 23, 2008

    Mostly basic stuff, not that difficult. The scores of elected public officials is dreadful, and I suspect most of those who took the test must have been Republicans. They seem to be hell-bent on becoming the new know-nothing party.

  19. #19 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    November 23, 2008

    Yes, John began with the caveat it’s right-leaning.

  20. #20 John S. Wilkins
    November 23, 2008

    I got 85% too (Australian!) but only by answering some of the very badly phrased economic questions as if I were a laisse faire capitalist or libertarian. It was clearly full of leading questions and had an agenda.

  21. #21 Mark E. Smith
    November 23, 2008

    California here. I looked at question 25 and said, well the answer is E but they want me to say B, so I put B and got it “right” by giving them the wrong answer.

    Do they really believe that individual citizens “create” resources? Are they going to rewrite the Old Testament to say that in the beginning, individual citizens created the heavens and the earth and all the gold and oil and coltan therein? ROFL

  22. #22 JRQ
    November 23, 2008

    I got 28/33, and I’ve always been weak on civics. The right-wing bias is pretty obvious; I guessed right a couple times by pretending I was a republican…

  23. #23 Wes
    November 23, 2008

    Sheril skewed the averages up by getting this group of intelligent (or else why are you here) folks to take the test.

    Upset with myself for missing 3.

  24. #24 Paul Murray
    November 23, 2008

    You answered 30 out of 33 correctly — 90.91 %

    If only there were websites about australian politics as engaging as the american ones!

  25. #25 Doug Clover
    November 24, 2008

    87% and I’m a Kiwi.



  26. #26 Bruce
    November 24, 2008

    (3) Flummoxed me. I think Dick Cheney established that the Vice-Presidency is a 4th branch of government.
    (13) Doesn’t seem strictly related to civics.
    (18) I think Anthony wanted to just get women the right to vote in elections; specifying “national elections” seems overly particular. Or did Anthony not care about local elections?
    (22) Hah! Only a commie pinko Islamofascist treehugging defeatist would answer “Congress”!

    Despite my ignorance, I got 32 out of 33 right, was wrong on #11. Just going on memory, too.

  27. #27 Scott
    November 24, 2008

    (FYI, I am not an economist: IANAE)

    Mark: Question #25 is about an economic system, not a political system. Answer B describes the ownership and production of “capital”, and is a clear description of capitalism. “Resources” is a broader term than just “natural resources”. Answer E could equally apply to socialism as to capitalism. Now, if you’re talking about how capitalism is actually practiced today, that’s a different question entirely.

    Matt: Same issue with question #27. Answer A is the fundamental definition of a Free Market. In principle, people closer to the problem make a better decision about how to allocate their resources. That’s the “local knowledge”. Is that a perfect definition? Is that how it always works? Of course not. People can make mistakes; people can be greedy and do things in opposition to their self interest, or the interests of the larger society. “Local Knowledge” may not be the best, because it may not be complete, or even accurate. A completely unfettered “Free Market” inevitably leads to monopolies, which everyone but the monopolist agrees is a bad thing. But in general, on average, it works, and Answer A is the closest of the 5 choices.

    I don’t see this as a right-leaning survey, maybe because I consider myself an economic conservative. Okay, maybe question #31 is a bit right-leaning. But in general, these are all textbook descriptions of the terms being used. Are they all completely accurate? Of course not. Can you reduce any complex economic or political question to a short single sentence? Typically, no. There are always nuances or cases where the practical application of an economic theory to the reality of “human nature” breaks down. But unless you know the textbook definitions (or maybe what used to be the textbook definitions), it’s hard to appreciate the nuances or deviations.

    Though I could be all wrong. 🙂 Maybe it’s more a case of having stayed awake in high school at a certain period in American history.

  28. #28 Inoculated Mind
    November 24, 2008

    I got 32/33 🙂 … I didn’t know anything about the Puritans. 🙁
    <---- 100% public school.

  29. #29 Hardeep
    November 24, 2008

    I don’t know how I got 82% on that quiz without really knowing anything about the US civil war or the US constitution. (I’m Canadian)

  30. #30 Nahuatl
    November 24, 2008

    Nice, I live in Aberdeen and I got 97% (32/33). That just goes to show what reading blogs does for you. 😛

  31. #31 Christophe Thill
    November 24, 2008

    I have 75.76%. But I’m not American. I agree that the questions about economics are a bit dubious.

  32. #32 toby
    November 24, 2008

    I got 94% ( 2 wrong) and I’m Irish living in Ireland.

    However, I read so much American history (in particular the Civil War and Revolutionary War periods) that I would have been really p**sed if I had not got above average.

  33. #33 Nomen Nescio
    November 24, 2008

    31/33. it’s more of a test on conservative capitalism than American civics, though — otherwise, that question about Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas would surely not be in it, never mind all the too-right-wing economic stuff.

  34. #34 Rob Jase
    November 24, 2008

    We’re tied & I’m surprised I did that well.

  35. #35 Dowman Varn
    November 24, 2008

    32/33. Straightforward quiz. But I’m troubled by the fact that some think that the quiz is “right leaning”? I didn’t see any political tendencies at all.

  36. #36 Crow
    November 24, 2008

    Bizarre way of defining “non-excludable”in the public good question….not to mention the strong conservative capitalist agenda.

  37. #37 The Ridger
    November 24, 2008

    Calling this “civics” is weird. A nice lead-in to their “free market rulez!” finale, some of which didn’t even make sense. Plus, how is Sputnik civics? (Disclosure: 29 right)

  38. #38 cognitive dissident
    November 24, 2008

    31/33. You could definitely tell from which side of the aisle the questions were written, but the bias wasn’t horrible.

  39. #39 HP
    November 24, 2008

    32 of 33. I missed question 33, which I thought was horribly written. “Tax per person equals government spending per person” seems to imply that if I pay $500 in taxes, I get $500 worth of services. Which is poppycock. “Per capita” would’ve been more accurate, but that’s an arithmetic question that has nothing to do with anything. I suspect that the question may be some kind of conservative dog-whistle too high for me to hear.

    The correct answer, of course, is that the deficit would be zero. But that wasn’t an option. A lot of people confuse government debt with government deficit, so I went with (A), assuming [hah!] that I am smarter than the people who made the quiz.

  40. #40 Scott
    November 24, 2008

    I also missed #33 for exactly the same reasons as HP on both answers. Specifically in terms of math I think that answer was “correct”, but it doesn’t make sense in a civics context.

    I got past the “Given that free-market capitalism is best, /why/ is free market capitalism best?” questions pretty easily, because I had a brief flirtation with fundamentalist libertarianism in college. But I got better 🙂

  41. #41 Dark Tent
    November 25, 2008

    According to ISI, 71% of Americans fail and the average score is 49%.”

    That’s to be expected when a large fraction of the respondents probably hail from the Bush administration (“Mission Accomplished) and places like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI: “CO2 is life”).

    I would not be surprised if ISI sent out the “quiz” to all its “sister” institutes — CEI, AEI, Discovery Institute, Ayn Rand Institute, Hoover Institute, George Marshall Institute, etc — biasing the result well toward the dim end of the spectrum.

    If it had been a “science quiz”, the results would have been even worse, of course:

    Eg of a question from the latter:

    Which of the following is something that Charles Darwin actually wrote:

    1) Abortion is an inalienable right of all alien life forms
    2) Stem cell research is a gift from God
    3) There is no God
    4) “those [species] belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species … and Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification.”
    5) All of the above
    6) none of the above

    Most prevalent CEI answer : #5 (99% of “CO2 is Life”er’s chose that one)

    The 1 CEI expert who did not choose #5 actually selected the correct answer (#4, of course) — and as a result, is no longer on the payroll there.

    (Incidentally, I missed 3 on the “civics” (sic) quiz )

  42. #42 Steven Earl Salmony
    November 25, 2008

    Perhaps expressions of intellectual honesty and moral courage in our time are radical things to do because they are so rarely in evidence.

    Is it not yet time careful and capable people in large numbers begin to behave honestly and courageously rather than remain silent and comfortable by choosing to follow greedy, misguided leaders who are irresponsibly pursuing the patently unsustainable business-as-usual expansion of the global political economy, an unbridled, rampant expansion of big-business activities that is resulting in the massive extirpation of biodiversity, the relentless degradation of our environs, the reckless ravage of Earth’s body and perhaps the endangerment of humanity?

    Hurry up, please. Now is the moment for humane, civil action.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  43. #43 John Monfries
    November 26, 2008

    30 out of 33 for me – I’m Australian.

    Too much economics rather than “civics” (and I’m not an economist either).

    Some of the “answers” were so odd, I wanted to simply not answer one or two questions, but it doesn’t let you do that.

  44. #44 Dave C
    November 28, 2008

    96.7% (32/33).

  45. #45 Emma
    November 30, 2008

    You answered 30 out of 33 correctly — 90.91 %

    I’m very sure the “free market” capitalism bias was not part of the constitution. The Supremes are responsible for a lot of it, along with the Federal Reserve system.

    If you want to score 100% pretend you’re Milton Friedman.

  46. #46 Stephen Berg
    November 30, 2008

    I got 75.76%. Not bad for a Canadian who only took American history up to the Civil War. It’s kind of depressing, actually, that I did nearly 30% higher than the average American and they’ve had far more schooling on the subject.

    Things certainly aren’t much better up here, though. Many Canadians are clueless when it comes to their history. I think kids have to turn off MTV (or MuchMusic here in Canada), stop texting their friends while in class, and pay attention to their teachers, or else we’re all going to be in dire straits when they get into the “real world”.

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