United States of Ignorants? Americans Don't Know Constitution, Surveys Find

Enthusiasm for Constitution abounds but many Americans ignorant of provisions.

ByABC News
March 23, 2011, 6:11 PM

March 24, 2011— -- The rise of the Tea Party has sparked resurgent interest in the U.S. Constitution and the history that led to drafting it.

The Tea Party caucus has held Constitution classes on Capitol Hill for lawmakers and prompted a reading of the document in its entirety from the House floor. Members carry printed copies in their front shirt pockets and invoke constitutional slogans in their Tweets and Facebook messages from Congress' halls.

But a survey published this week by Newsweek and an informal ABC News poll of tourists on the National Mall last month found many Americans remain surprisingly ignorant of the founding document's provisions.

"What is the supreme law of the land?" Seventy-percent of the 1,000 citizens polled by Newsweek couldn't answer correctly. (Hint: It's the Constitution.)

Sixty-one percent didn't know that the length of a U.S. senator's term is six years, 63 percent couldn't name the number of Supreme Court justices on the bench (nine), and 86 percent didn't know that 435 members fill the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., dozens of Americans we surveyed didn't fare much better. Few could recite the opening phrase of the Constitution ("We the people of the United States…") or list the constitutional requirements to be president (natural born, at least 35 years old and permanent resident of the United States).

And while experts say the results aren't new or surprising, the ignorance of many Americans on the details of the Constitution sharply contrasts with their belief in the document and impact on their lives.

Three in four Americans believe the Constitution is an enduring document that remains relevant today, an Associated Press poll found last summer. Nearly as many, 63 percent, believe the Constitution affects their lives "a great deal," ABC News found in a recent poll.

And 73 percent of them said they're confident they know "some" or a "great deal" of the Constitution's contents.

How do you fare? Test your Constitution IQ with our quiz HERE.

And if you need a refresher, you can read the entirety of the U.S. Constitution HERE.

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue and Amy Bingham contributed to this report.