Survey Finds Most Haven’t Read The Constitution
A new survey finds that while a majority of Americans think the Constitution is important, less than a third have ever bothered to read the entire document.
The survey was published by the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange.
O'Brien: The survey was conducted by a survey research firm at Muhlenburg College in Pennsylvania; it's a sort of a standard telephone survey of a random sample of Americans. It was limited to people 18 years and older; 988 people were surveyed with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.
Sean O’Brien is Executive Director of the Center.
O'Brien: We embarked on this project because the Center for the Constitution hosts seminars about the Constitution for teachers and police officers and journalists, and we wanted to know what the general public knew, so that when we're constructing our curriculum, we could teach the things that people weren't aware of.
Turns out, that’s rather a lot.
O'Brien: Given that it's the document that defines our nation and defines us as a people.
The body of the Constitution, he noted, is only 4,400 words.
O'Brien: It's about the equivalent of a 17-page novel, yet only 28% of the people have read all of the Constitution, and another 14% report having read most of it. That's a little bit discouraging, given that it is so short; I appreciate that the language can be a bit dense and awkward, but if a person sits down and takes twenty minutes, they can get through the whole Constitution and probably realize some things about America and about the founding of America that they didn't know before, because they haven't read the Constitution and seen what the founders were thinking about and were concerned about. What we hope is that people will see this and they'll think, 'I want to be part of the 28%,' which hopefully then becomes a growing number.
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings, he said, was:
O'Brien: The age group that reported having read none of the Constitution the most was 18 to 24-year olds, which are people who have most recently finished the formal part of their education. We would've thought that 100% would have read at least some, if not more, and probably all, of the Constitution in that age group. I can tell you in a preview of some other data that we're gonna have to release closer to election day, that we did a separate sample just of Virginia and in Virginia, young people are doing a little bit better than in the nation as a whole, and we are the birthplace of democracy in America and it's not too surprising that our curriculum would focus very strongly on these founding principles and on the Constitution, but in general, it's quite shocking.
It wasn’t as surprising, O’Brien added, that young people felt it doesn’t affect them as much.
O'Brien: Because they're young and they're running around and they're doing their thing and they may not own a house yet and they may not have children yet or a job yet, and so they're not necessarily thinking about the structure and function of government as much as older people are, but I still would have thought that they would have read it.
Did the survey find that more older people had read the document?
O'Brien: In general, the answer is yes. More of the older age groups report having read all of the Constitution; they generally do better on the specific questions about things in the Constitution; for example, well actually, I'm talking about constitutional principles, things like rule of law. People 35 and older, 96 to 94% of them say that's an important constitutional principle, but only 80% of 18 to 24-year olds.
You can take the survey and test yourself online. You can also read all 4,400 words at Montpelier.org or Center.Montpelier.org.
John Ogle, WCVE News