Survey says most Americans can't pass civics test used for naturalization of immigrants

J. H. Osborne • Feb 18, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Don’t know much about (American) history. Unfortunately, that’s not just lyrics from an old pop tune on the radio, according to a recent survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

As the nation celebrates “Presidents’ Day” (the federal holiday is, by law, officially George Washington’s Birthday) today, the poll reveals most American adults couldn’t pass the citizenship test required of those not born here to become naturalized citizens of the United States.

The survey found that in the highest-performing state, Vermont, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. A majority of people in every other state — including Tennessee and Virginia — failed. Only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 nationally were able to demonstrate a basic understanding of American history. Nationally, only four in 10 Americans passed the exam.

“Unfortunately, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has validated what studies have shown for a century: Americans don’t possess the history knowledge they need to be informed and engaged citizens,” WWF President Arthur Levine said in a press release.

The survey found only 15 percent of American adults could correctly note the year the U.S. Constitution was written, and only 25 percent knew how many amendments it has. Further, 25 percent did not know that freedom of speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment, and 57 percent did not know that Woodrow Wilson was the commander-in-chief during World War I.

How the states fared

The top four states following Vermont, and their passing rates, were Wyoming (49 percent), South Dakota (48 percent), Montana (47 percent) and Virginia (46 percent). The five lowest-performing states, and their passing rates, were Mississippi (31 percent), Alabama (31 percent), Arkansas (30 percent), Kentucky (29 percent) and Louisiana (27 percent).

Tennessee came in just under the national average, with 38 percent passing the test.

The test

There are 100 civics (history and government) questions and answers for the naturalization test. The civics test is an oral test and a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service officer will ask the applicant up to 10 of the 100 civics questions. An applicant must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test.

Below are 10 questions from the test (along with correct answers):

• What is one reason colonists came to America? (Freedom; political liberty; religious freedom; economic opportunity; practice their religion; escape persecution.)

• Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived? (American Indians; Native Americans.)

• What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves? (Africans; people from Africa.)

• When was the Constitution written? (1787)

• What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803? (The Louisiana Territory; Louisiana.)

• Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s (War of 1812; Mexican-American War; Civil War; Spanish-American War.)

• Who did the United States fight in World War II? (Japan, Germany, and Italy.)

• Name one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico; U.S. Virgin Islands; American Samoa; Northern Mariana Islands; Guam.)

• Name one state that borders Mexico. (California; Arizona; New Mexico; Texas)

• Why does the flag have 13 stripes? (Because there were 13 original colonies; because the stripes represent the original colonies.)

Sources: The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation; The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.