Thompson Center Research

Civics Study White Paper – 12.10.2019


In late 2019, the Thompson Center conducted a survey with the University of Wisconsin Survey Center to determine how much undergraduate students at UW-Madison know about American civics.  Overall, students scored reasonably well on the exam, with an average “score” of 86% correct on test questions.

Analysis of the survey found that the largest factor contributing to higher scores is the number of High School civics classes students took. Students coming from states that required them to pass a state civics exam to graduate from High School also performed slightly better than students coming from states that did not require such a test.

In non-test questions students strongly indicated support for a requirement that High School students take civics classes (92% agree). Students also generally supported requiring High School students to take a civics test in order to graduate (61%).

Survey Test Questions

  1. What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?
    a. Freedom to petition the government and freedom to disobey traffic laws.
    b. Freedom to worship and freedom to make treaties with other countries.
    c. Freedom of speech and freedom to run for president.
    d. Freedom of speech and freedom of worship.
  2. What is freedom of religion?
    a. You can’t choose the time you practice your religion.
    b. You must choose a religion.
    c. You can practice any religion, or not practice a religion.
    d. No one can practice a religion.
  3. Who is in charge of the executive branch? 
    a. The Speaker of the House.
    b. The Prime Minister.
    c. The President.
    d. The Chief Justice.
  4. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
    a. The Articles of Confederation.
    b. The inalienable rights.
    c. The Declaration of Independence.
    d. The Bill of Rights.
  5. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the States.  What is one power of the states? 
    a. Make treaties.
    b. Provide schooling and education.
    c. Create an army.
    d. Coin or Print money.
  6. Who is the Commander in Chief of the military?
    a. The President.
    b. The Vice President.
    c. The Secretary of Defense.
    d. The Attorney General.
  7. Who is the “Father of Our Country”?
    a. George Washington.
    b. Thomas Jefferson.
    c. Abraham Lincoln.
    d. Patrick Henry.
  8. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
    a. Ten (10).
    b. Four (4).
    c. Two (2).
    d. Six (6).
  9. What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
    a. The President.
    b. Checks and Balances.
    c. The People.
    d. Freedom of speech.
  10. We elect a President for how many years?
    a. Eight (8).
    b. Two (2).
    c. Four (4).
    d. Ten (10).
  11. The Idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
    a. We the People.
    b. Congress shall make.
    c. We the British.
    d. We the Colonists.
  12. Who makes federal laws?
    a. Congress.
    b. The states.
    c. The President.
    d. The Supreme Court.
  13. What is the “Rule of Law”?
    a. Everyone but the President must follow the law.
    b. Government does not have to follow the law.
    c. All laws must be the same in every state.
    d. Everyone must follow the law.
  14. What does the Constitution do?
    a. Defines the government.
    b. Sets up the government.
    c. Protects basic rights of Americans.
    d. All of these answers.
  15. Under the Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
    a. To provide police departments.
    b. To issue driver’s licenses.
    c. To make treaties.
    d. To provide schooling.
  16. Who does a U.S. Senator represent?
    a. All people of the state in which (s)he was elected.
    b. All people of the state who belong to the Senator’s political party.
    c. The state legislatures.
    d. Only the people of the state who voted for the Senator.
  17. How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?
    a. Thirty-Five (35) or older.
    b. Sixteen (16) or older.
    c. Twenty-one (21) or older.
    d. Eighteen (18) or older.
  18. What major event happened September 11, 2001 in the United States? 
    a. The accident at Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant occurred.
    b. Hurricane Andrew struck the United States.
    c. Terrorists attacked the United States.
    d. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
  19. What does the judicial branch do?
    a. Decides if a law goes against the Constitution.
    b. Reviews laws.
    c. Resolves disputes.
    d. All the above.
  20. What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
    a. Write to a newspaper and call Senators and Representatives.
    b. Give an elected official your opinion on an issue and join a community group.
    c. Vote and join a civic group.
    d. All of these answers.
  21. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Select the response that accurately describes one of them:
    a. Citizens seventeen (17) and older can vote.
    b. Citizens by birth only can vote.
    c. Citizens eighteen (18) and older can vote.
    d. Only citizens with a job can vote.
  22. Who signs bills to become laws?
    a. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
    b. The Vice President.
    c. The Secretary of State.
    d. The President.
  23. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
    a. Four hundred forty-one (441).
    b. Four hundred thirty-five (435).
    c. Two hundred (200).
    d. One hundred (100).
  24. Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?
    a. Because the state’s Representatives have seniority in the House of Representatives.
    b. Because of the state’s population.
    c. Because of the geographical size of the state.
    d. Because of the state’s location.
  25. What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
    a. Pay taxes.
    b. Obey the law.
    c. Be respectful of others.
    d. Serve on a jury.
  26. What is the economic system in the United States?
    a. Communist economy.
    b. Capitalist economy.
    c. Socialist economy.
    d. None of these answers.
  27. Name one right belonging only to United States citizens.
    a. Freedom of religion.
    b. Run for federal office.
    c. Attend public school.
    d. Freedom of Speech.
  28. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
    a. The House of Representatives and the courts.
    b. The House of Lords and the House of Commons.
    c. The Senate and House of Representatives.
    d. The Senate and the courts.
  29. What is the supreme law of the land?
    a. The Articles of Confederation.
    b. The Constitution.
    c. The Emancipation Proclamation.
    d. The Declaration of Independence.
  30. We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years? 
    a. Six (6).
    b. Two (2).
    c. Four (4).
    d. Eight (8).
  31. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
    a. Life and death.
    b. Life and pursuit of happiness.
    c. Liberty and Justice.
    d. Life and the right to own a home.
  32. What is one right or freedom granted by the First Amendment?
    a. Trial by Jury.
    b. To vote.
    c. To bear arms.
    d. Speech.
  33. How many U.S. Senators are there? 
    a. Fifty-two (52).
    b. Four hundred thirty-five (435).
    c. One hundred (100).
    d. Fifty (50).
  34. If the President and Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes the President of the United States?
    a. Speaker of the House.
    b. Secretary of State.
    c. Senate President Pro Tempore.
    d. Secretary of Defense.
  35. How many Justices are on the Supreme Court?
    a. Five (5).
    b. Nine (9).
    c. Ten (10).
    d. Thirteen (13)

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