When it comes to knowledge about the U.S. Constitution, political system, public policy, and national and world leaders, Utahns are failing the test.
That’s because Utahns were given a “D” grade on civics knowledge in a recent study conducted by the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University.
What the study says: UVU’s study involved surveying 942 Utah adults last fall. Researchers, led by Jay DeSart, chairman of UVU’s Department of History and Political Science, asked a series of factual questions and opinion statements to evaluate knowledge of civics and political systems.
While 57% of respondents were able to identify the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial, for those following along at home — fewer were able to name the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, which includes freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Only 37% correctly identified religion, and 18% knew freedom of the press.
One in 5 knew that John Roberts is the chief justice of the Supreme Court. While that’s slightly better than the national average, it shows “an alarming erosion of trust in civic institutions among Utahns,” said a university press release.
What about civics education? A second survey paints a rosier picture of civics education in the state. Researchers asked over 500 social studies and fourth and fifth grade teachers about how they teach civics.
The results show that most teachers understand the importance of civics and strive to make time for it, but report they often lack resources and time to focus on the subject.
“The two surveys point to a concerning, yet puzzling, gap between Utah teachers’ commitment to civics instruction and both the inability to recall basic civics facts and the dwindling faith in civics institutions among Utah’s adult population,” said Scott Paul, executive director for the Center for Constitutional Studies. “It is critical that we understand this gap and its causes.”
Why it matters: Basic civic knowledge and participation are a key part of constitutional governance in the United States.
Both surveys are part of the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative at UVU, which was created by the Utah Legislature in 2021. The Legislature stipulated that the initiative would “facilitate nonpartisan political discussion and provide civic education and research.”