Opinion polls consistently show that we hold the institutions occupied by our public officials in low regard. The latest Gallup Poll shows Congress with just a 16 percent approval rating. President Trump’s approval rating hovers at around 40 percent.
Gallup finds the U.S. Supreme Court fares better with 40 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the institution, but 56 percent says they have only some or very little confidence.
We grouse and ask what our government leaders are doing wrong, and that’s fair. We need to hold our public officials accountable. We are less willing to hold the mirror up to ourselves, but that would be a worthwhile exercise.
A new survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that for all the complaining we do, many of us don’t know much at all about the targets of our discontent. For example:
–More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. About half do know that freedom of speech is included, but only 15 percent could identify freedom of religion and just 14 percent could identify freedom of the press (10 percent could name right of assembly and 3 percent knew right to petition.)
–Only 26 percent of those surveyed can name all three branches of government. One third could not name any of the three branches–executive, legislative and judicial.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the findings do not bode well for us. “Protecting our rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome.”
So often we hear the clatter of, “I know my rights,” but as it turns out, most Americans really don’t.
Chris Stirewalt, Fox News Political Editor, writes that after reviewing the poll, “you cease to wonder why things are so bad and begin to wonder why they are not already worse.”
We witness the animosity toward the so-called “elites,” but as Stirewalt concludes, “it’s easy to be an intellectual elite in a nation where not even half of the people know what kind of government they have… This should be cause for deepening alarm.”
If Senator Robert Byrd were alive today, he might be shedding a tear for us. After all, it was Byrd who so revered the Constitution that he always carried a well-used copy in his breast pocket and successfully convinced Congress to make September 17th Constitution Day.
(The day is being marked today this year because the 17th fell on a Sunday and one of the purposes of Constitution Day is to study the document in public schools.)
Byrd, writing in his autobiography said, “Only with a citizenry that understands its responsibilities in a republic such as ours can we ever expect to elect office-holders with the intelligence to represent the people well, the honesty to deal with people truthfully, and the determination to effectively promote the people’s interests and preserve their liberties, no matter what the personal political consequences.”
This is our charge, not only on Constitution Day, but every day.