Buckley Program Survey: 29% of U.S. College Students Would Not Pass U.S. Citizenship Test

The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale

Contact: Lauren Noble: 781-698-9208


William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale Releases Part Two of Annual Survey of Four-Year American College Students


29% of U.S. College Students Would Not Pass U.S. Citizenship Test

60% Don’t Know Length of U.S. Senate Term; 21% Misidentify Colin Powell as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

New Haven CT — Oct. 7…Twenty-nine percent (29%) of full-time American college students would fail the U.S. Citizenship Test if they took it today, according to a sobering new national survey conducted by The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale.

The results — Part Two of a three-part survey — asked four-year college students 12 of 100 potential civics questions that can appear on a U.S. Citizenship Test as multiple choice questions. The actual citizenship test is not multiple choice and respondents must answer six of 10 questions correctly to pass. In this survey, students “passed” if they answered seven out of the 12 multiple choice questions correctly.

“U.S. college students talk a lot about citizenship and immigration, but far too many don’t know enough about their own history and government to become citizens if they had to take the Citizenship Test today,” said Buckley Program founder and executive director Lauren Noble. “American colleges and universities offer an ever-widening variety of course studies; one wonders if that is occurring at the expense of an elemental civics education.”

The civics quiz was the second section of the 2016 Buckley Program Survey to be released. The final section will be released on Monday.

Civics questions asked were:

What do we call the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution?

  • 85% correctly answered Bill of Rights. Twelve percent (12%) said Declaration of Independence; 1% said Emancipation Proclamation; 2% said Articles of Confederation.

We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?

  • Just 40% knew it is six years, while 28% said two years; 26% said six years, and 6% said eight years.

The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

  • Fewer than half (47%) knew it is 435; 21% guessed 100; 23% said 250, and 9% answered 380.

Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

  • Half (50%) correctly answered Justice John Roberts; 21% identified former Secretary of State Colin Powell; 18% thought it was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and 11% answered Justice Thurgood Marshall who died more than 23 years ago.

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

  • 71% of students knew it was Thomas Jefferson; 10 percent said George Washington; 13% answered Benjamin Franklin; 6% said John Adams.

What year was the U.S. Constitution written?

  • 34% rightly said 1787; 58% wrongly said 1776; 7% answered 1812, and 1% said the Constitution was penned in 1865.

What territory did the U.S. buy from France in 1803?

  • Fully 84% of students knew it was Louisiana; 7% ventured Florida; 6% said Alaska, and 4% said California.

Who was President during the Great Depression and World War II?

  • Around two-thirds (65%) of college students knew it was Franklin D. Roosevelt; 17% thought it was Herbert Hoover; 7% said Calvin Coolidge, and 12% incorrectly went with Woodrow Wilson.

Which of the following states does not share a border with Mexico?

  • 75% of college students surveyed knew it is Louisiana; 4% wrongly picked Texas; 15% answered Arizona, and 7% said New Mexico.

When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?

  • 75% of students also knew it’s April 15th; 9% said January 20th; 14% responded March 13th, while 2% said November 8th, this year’s Election Day.

What branch of government passes legislation?

  • Three quarters (75%) correctly identified the legislative branch; 14% said executive branch, and 12% thought it was the judicial branch. (It’s not, at least not yet.)

What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?

  • 86% knew the answer is freed slaves, but 7% of U.S. college students thought it gave women the right to vote; 2% believed it banned alcohol, and 6% said it declared American Independence.

The 2016 Buckley Program Survey was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates between September 17 and September 25, 2016, polling 800 full-time undergraduate students at four-year public and private colleges and universities across the country. The online survey has a +/- error estimate of 3.4%. Methodology for the survey and visual slides are available here.

Part One of the 2016 Buckley Program Survey included questions about Black Lives Matter and the 2016 Presidential race.

According to the Survey, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leads Republican candidate Donald Trump by 23 points among four-year college students, with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson receiving 17% of the college vote, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein commanding 7%. An additional 8% of college students surveyed say they will not vote in the November 8 presidential election and another 8% remain undecided.

Secretary Clinton leads the field among all ethnic demographics, surpassing Mr. Trump 35-23 among white students, 58-9 among black students, and 50-15 among Hispanic students. Mrs. Clinton has the support of 74% of college Democrats; Mr. Trump is backed by 57% of college Republicans. Mr. Johnson is leading all other candidates among political independents at four-year schools. (Independents: Johnson 29%; Clinton; 25%; Trump 13%; Stein 11%).

Mrs. Clinton polls higher among students at private universities vs. public universities (48-39), as does Mr. Trump (22-17). Ms. Stein does best among college freshmen, garnering the support of 10% of first year students.

Students also believe by a four-to-one margin that professors and faculty at their schools “generally prefer” Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump as the next president.

Part One the 2016 Buckley Program Survey also queried students on whether they most identify with the statement, “Black Lives Matter” (28%), “Blue Lives Matter” (5%), or “All Lives Matter” (59%). Hispanic students were the most likely to answer “All Lives Matter” (64%), while African-American students most identified with “Black Lives Matter” (60%), and Republican college students were the most likely to identify with the statement “Blue Lives Matter” (10%). “Blue Lives Matter” failed to record a score among black college students.