For Immediate Release:  Apr 27, 2011
2011, 04, 27

New Study Reveals New Yorkers Lack Foundational Knowledge of the US Constitution, Government and Politics

New Study Reveals New Yorkers Lack Foundational Knowledge of the US Constitution, Government and Politics

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Kristen McMahon
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Hofstra Law
Phone: 516.463.4252
E-mail: Kristen.D.McMahon@hofstra.edu

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — According to a new study issued by the Brennan Center for Justice, New Yorkers are seriously lacking in their knowledge of government, politics and the U.S. Constitution. The report was co-authored by Eric Lane, the Eric J. Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Public Service at Hofstra Law School and senior fellow at the Brennan Center, and Meg Barnette, the former COO of the Brennan Center.

The report, A Report Card on New York’s Civic Literacy, details the results of a Brennan Center poll of more than 1,000 registered voters in New York state. The responses were telling: More than eight in 10 New Yorkers believe that in order to work properly, democracy requires citizens to be knowledgeable about American government as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, while fewer than two in 10 believe they are actually very familiar with the document. 

For example, 62% of respondents incorrectly thought the President, not Congress, has the power to declare war. And furthermore, two out of five people polled could not identify which branch of government makes laws  despite that the legislative branch, Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives all would have been accepted as correct answers.

“Civic literacy is of crucial importance to the vibrancy of American democracy,” said Hofstra Law Dean Nora V. Demleitner. “I applaud Professor Lane and his collaborators for their work on this issue and I suggest that the recommendations they make in this report be given serious consideration.”

To remedy the disparities outlined in the report, Lane and Barnette recommend the following:
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo should ensure that civic literacy is at the top of New York’s educational agenda.
  • New York should recommit to a full civics education curriculum in schools.
  • Public education should reintroduce civic literacy to the wider public outside the classroom.
  • New York should create a commission that will conduct strategic planning and foster innovation in the area of civics education.

To view the full report, visit law.hofstra.edu/CivicLiteracy.

About Eric Lane
Eric Lane is the Eric J. Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Public Service at Hofstra Law School, where he has been a faculty member since 1976. He teaches courses relating to the structure and processes of government. He has co-authored two texts on legislation and statutory interpretation with the Honorable Abner J. Mikva. He also wrote the book The Genius of America: How the Constitution Saved Our Country  and Why it Can Again (Bloomsbury USA, 2007) with Michael Oreskes, the senior managing editor of the Associated Press. Lane is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

About the Brennan Center for Justice
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institution that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. The center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to presidential power in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group — the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector.

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