Political literacy and the college campus

November 5, 2012 6:00 AMComments Off

With the presidential election a day away, a small sample of Drake University students showed a wide gap in their personal political literacy.

Five students with different hometowns and a variety of majors were asked basic questions regarding the fundamental structure of the American government.

The question regarding the term length of the United States president was one of the two questions all of the students answered correctly, along with identifying freedom of speech as a First Amendment right.

When asked who within the government decides whether or not a law is Constitutional, first-year public relations major Adam Graves was the only student to correctly answer the U.S. Supreme Court. Graves was also the only student out of the five questioned to properly identify the first ten amendments of the Constitution as the Bill of Rights. Graves, who identifies himself with the Republican Party, is from Omaha, Neb.

“I am currently taking an American politics course. That’s the only reason I feel confident in answering these questions. I barely knew any of this stuff before learning it in class,” Graves said.

When questioned who the current House of Representatives speaker is, the answers from the students varied, but all failed to identify John Boehner.

“I know the last one was Nancy Pelosi. I am embarrassed to say I can’t remember the new guy’s name,” said sophomore Katie McClintic, who is registered as an Independent and is double-majoring in public relations and law, politics and society. McClintic is from Indianola, Iowa.

Wash (his name is Nashmi, is this his nickname?) Albadarin is a first-year pharmacy student from Kansas City, Mo.. He was the only student to properly identify both Iowa senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley. When the questioning ended, Albadarin said, “Will you please tell me all of the correct answers, I really want to know,”  Albadarin said??

Sophomore history major Laura Mizell’s guess regarding the state senators was at least partially correct.

“This is embarrassing – I know there are two of them, and I think their term is two years,” Mizell said.

Actually, U.S. senators serve six-year terms. Mizell could, however, name all of her first amendment rights. Mizell wished not to reveal her party association.

Hanna Hollingsworth, who giggled as she guessed the first ten amendments were called “The Ten Amendments,” said, “I am not very politically literate, but I do not think that holds me back from casting a vote rooted in my ideologies and morals.”

Hollingsworth knew that it took a two-thirds senate vote to overturn a presidential veto.

According to information gathered in a 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, only three percent of the American public volunteered time to a campaign.

The same survey also concluded that less than a third of the public could identify John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court that year and only 55 percent knew David Petraeus had been the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

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