Tag Archives: civic literacy

Stuff I Know You Know…

At noon today, I’m speaking (via Zoom) to a Columbus, Indiana human rights organization. Here are my prepared remarks. (Long one–sorry.)

Over the past few years, Americans have begun to recognize how endangered our representative democracy has become.

Pundits and political scientists have their pet theories for how this has happened. Some of that analysis has been intriguing, and even illuminating. Until lately, however, none of it had attempted to answer the important question: what should we do to fix our problems, and why should we do it? As the causes of our dysfunctions have become more obvious, however—as it has become very clear that we are caught up in an obsolete system that facilitates the dominance of a clear minority of our voting population– scholars are urging reforms that focus on protecting voting rights, and restructuring America’s antiquated electoral processes.

First, some background.

You know, we humans don’t always appreciate the extent to which cultural or legal institutions—what we might call folkways, our longtime accepted ways of behaving and interacting—shape the way we understand the world around us. We rarely stop to consider things we simply take for granted—the conventions that constitute our daily lives. We drive on this side of the road, not that side; our marriages consist of two adults, not three or four; when our country holds elections we get to participate or abstain. Most of us accept these and multiple other conventions as givens, as “the way things are.” In some cases, however, institutions, systems and expectations that have worked well, or at least adequately, for a number of years simply outlive whatever original utility they may once have had, made obsolete by modern communications and transportation technologies, corrupt usages or cultural and demographic change.

I want to suggest that such obsolescence is a particularly acute element of American political life today. Let me share some of the more important examples that currently work in tandem to disenfranchise literally millions of Americans who are entitled to have their voices heard and their votes counted.

Perhaps the most significant problem of today’s electoral system is partisan gerrymandering. As you know, every ten years, after each census, state governments redraw state and federal district lines to reflect population changes. States—including Indiana– are engaged in that exercise as we speak. Except in the few states that have established nonpartisan redistricting commissions, the party in control of the state legislature when redistricting time rolls around controls the line-drawing process, and Republican or Democrat, they will all draw districts that maximize their own electoral prospects and minimize those of the opposing party.

Partisan redistricting goes all the way back to Elbridge Gerry, who gave Gerrymandering its name—and he signed the Declaration of Independence—but the process became far more sophisticated and precise with the advent of computers, leading to a situation which has been aptly described as legislators choosing their voters, rather than the other way around.

Academic researchers and political reformers alike blame gerrymandering for electoral non-competitiveness and political polarization. A 2008 book co-authored by Norman Orenstein and Thomas Mann argued that the decline in competition fostered by gerrymandering has entrenched partisan behavior and diminished incentives for compromise and bipartisanship.

Mann and Orenstein are political scientists who have written extensively about redistricting, and about “packing” (creating districts with supermajorities of the opposing party) “cracking” (distributing members of the opposing party among several districts to ensure that they don’t have a majority in any of them) and “tacking” (expanding the boundaries of a district to include a desirable group from a neighboring district). They have tied redistricting to the advantages of incumbency, and also point out that the reliance by House candidates upon maps drawn by state-level politicians operates to reinforce “partisan rigidity,” the increasing nationalization of the political parties.

Interestingly, one study they cited investigated whether representatives elected from districts drawn by independent commissions become less partisan. Contrary to their initial expectations, they found that politically independent redistricting did reduce partisanship, and in statistically significant ways.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of gerrymandering is the proliferation of safe seats. Safe districts breed voter apathy and reduce political participation. After all, why should citizens get involved if the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? (For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner?) What is the incentive to volunteer or vote when it obviously doesn’t matter? It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation, either: it becomes increasingly difficult for the “sure loser” party to recruit credible candidates. As a result, in many of these races, voters are left with no meaningful choice.  Ironically, the anemic voter turnout that gerrymandering produces leads to handwringing about citizen apathy, usually characterized as a civic or moral deficiency. But voter apathy may instead be a highly rational response to noncompetitive politics. People save their efforts for places where those efforts count, and thanks to the increasing lack of competitiveness in our electoral system, those places often do not include the voting booth.

Worst of all, in safe districts, the only way to oppose an incumbent is in the primary–and that almost always means that the challenge will come from the “flank” or extreme. When the primary is, in effect, the general election, the battle takes place among the party faithful, who also tend to be the most ideological voters. So Republican incumbents will be challenged from the Right and Democratic incumbents will be attacked from the Left. Even where those challenges fail, they create a powerful incentive for incumbents to “toe the line”— to placate the most rigid elements of their respective parties. Instead of the system working as intended, with both parties nominating candidates they think will be most likely to appeal to the broader constituency, the system produces nominees who represent the most extreme voters on each side of the philosophical divide.

The consequence of this ever-more-precise state-level and Congressional district gerrymandering has been a growing philosophical gap between the parties and— especially but not exclusively in the Republican party— an empowered, rigidly ideological base intent on punishing any deviation from orthodoxy and/or any hint of compromise.

After the 2010 census, Republicans dominated state governments in a significant majority of states, and they proceeded to engage in one of the most thorough, most strategic, most competent gerrymanders in history. The 2011 gerrymander did two things: as intended, it gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives; the GOP held 247 seats to the Democrats’ 186, a 61 vote margin– despite the fact that nationally, Democratic House candidates had received over a million more votes than Republican House candidates. But that gerrymander also did something unintended; it destroyed Republican party discipline. It created and empowered the significant number of Republican Representatives who make up what has been called the “lunatic caucus” and made it virtually impossible for the Republicans to govern.

Then, of course, there’s the problem that pretty much everyone now recognizes: The Electoral College. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by approximately 2.85 million votes. Donald Trump won in the Electoral College due to a total vote margin of fewer than 80,000 votes that translated into paper-thin victories in three states. Thanks to “winner take all” election laws, Trump received all of the electoral votes of those three states. “Winner take all” systems, in place in most states, award all of a state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, no matter how close the result; if a candidate wins a state 50.5% to 49.5% or 70% to 30%, the result is the same; votes cast for the losing candidate simply don’t count.

Problems with the Electoral College are widely recognized. Among them are the outsized influence it gives swing states, the lack of an incentive to vote if you favor the minority party in a winner-take-all state, and the over-representation of rural voters and less populated states—what one scholar has called “extra votes for topsoil.” (Wyoming, for example, our least populous state, has one-sixty-sixth of California’s population, but it has one-eighteenth of California’s electoral votes.) The Electoral College
advantages rural voters over urban ones, and white voters over voters of color. (Of course, it isn’t only the Electoral College that is a mismatch between our professed belief in “one person, one vote”—the fact that each state gets two Senators means that the 40 million people who live in the 22 smallest states get 44 senators to represent their views, while the 40 million people in California get two. We are unlikely to change that particular element of our system, but there’s no reason to add insult to injury by keeping the Electoral College.)

Akil Reed Amar, who teaches Constitutional Law at Yale Law School, criticizes the justifications we often hear for the Electoral College. As he has pointed out, the framers put the Constitution itself to a popular vote of sorts, provided for direct election of House members and favored the direct election of governors. The Electoral College was actually a concession to the demands of Southern slave states. In a direct-election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge proportion of its population — slaves — couldn’t vote. The Electoral college enabled slave states to count their slaves in the electoral college apportionment, albeit at a discount, under the Constitution’s three-fifths clause.

Americans pick mayors and governors by direct election, and there is no obvious reason that a system that works for the nation’s other chief executives can’t also work for President. Amar points out that no other country employs a similar mechanism.

As Representative Jamin Raskin points out, the Electoral College is an incentive to cheat:
“Every citizen’s vote should count equally in presidential elections, as in elections for governor or mayor. But the current regime makes votes in swing states hugely valuable while rendering votes in non-competitive states virtually meaningless. This weird lottery, as we have seen, dramatically increases incentives for strategic partisan mischief and electoral corruption in states like Florida and Ohio. You can swing a whole election by suppressing, deterring, rejecting and disqualifying just a few thousand votes.”

Gerrymandering and the Electoral College are the “big two,” but there are other changes that would reinvigorate American democracy. The way we administer elections is one of them.

State-level control over the conduct of elections made sense when difficulties in communication and transportation translated into significant isolation of populations; today, state-level control allows for all manner of mischief, including—as we’ve recently seen– significant and effective efforts at vote suppression, and what is especially worrisome, efforts to put partisans in charge of counting the votes. But even without intentional cheating, state-level control allows for wide variations from state to state in the hours polls are open, in provisions for early and absentee voting, and for the placement  and accessibility of polling places. In states that have instituted “Voter ID” laws, documentation that satisfies those laws varies widely. (Voter ID measures are popular with the public, despite the fact that study after study has found in-person voter fraud to be virtually non-existent, and despite clear evidence that the impetus for these laws is a desire to suppress turnout among poor and minority populations likely to vote Democratic.)

State-level control of voting makes it difficult to implement measures that would encourage more citizen participation, like the effort to make election day a national holiday or at least move election day to a weekend. A uniform national system, overseen by a nonpartisan or bipartisan federal agency with the sole mission of administering fair, honest elections, would also facilitate consideration of other improvements proposed by good government organizations.

The entire registration system, for example, was designed when registrars needed weeks to receive registration changes in the mail to produce hard copy voter rolls for elections. We are in a very different time now, and making registration automatic, moving to same day registration and on-line registration systems, adopting no-excuse absentee ballots or universal vote by mail, eliminating caucuses, mandating at least 14 hour election day opening times and one week of early voting would make for a better, more modern and much more user-friendly American election system.

I don’t need to belabor the next one: Campaign Finance/Money in Politics. Common Cause sums it up: “American political campaigns are now financed through a system of legalized bribery.” Other organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Responsive Politics, and the National Institute for Money in State Politics, among others, have documented the outsized influence of campaign contributions on American public policy, but contributions to parties and candidates aren’t the only ways wealthier citizens influence policy. The ability to hire lobbyists, many of whom are former legislators, gives corporate interests considerable clout. Money doesn’t just give big spenders the chance to express a view or support a candidate; it gives them leverage to reshape the American economy in their favor.

Even worse, a system that privileges the speech of wealthy citizens by allowing them to use their greater resources to amplify their message in ways that average Americans cannot does great damage to notions of fundamental democratic fairness, ethical probity and civic equality.

Until recently, the role played by current use of the filibuster has been less well recognized, but it is no less destructive of genuine democracy.

Whatever the original purpose or former utility of the filibuster, when its use was infrequent and it required a Senator to actually make a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, today, the filibuster operates to require government by super-majority. It has become a weapon employed by extremists to hold the country hostage.
The original idea of a filibuster was that so long as a senator kept talking, the bill in question could not move forward. Once those opposed to the measure felt they had made their case, or at least exhausted their argument, they would leave the floor and allow a vote. In 1917, when filibustering Senators threatened President Wilson’s ability to respond to a perceived military threat, the Senate adopted a mechanism called cloture, allowing a super-majority to vote to end a filibuster.

Then in 1975, the Senate changed several of its rules and made it much easier to filibuster. The new rules effectively allowed “virtual” filibusters, by allowing other business to be conducted during the time a filibuster is theoretically taking place. Senators no longer are required to take to the Senate floor and argue their case. This “virtual” use, which has increased dramatically as partisan polarization has worsened, has effectively abolished the principle of majority rule: in effect, it now takes sixty votes (the number needed for cloture) to pass any legislation. This anti-democratic result isn’t just in direct conflict with the intent of those who crafted our constitutional system, it has brought normal government operation to a standstill, and allowed small numbers of senators to effortlessly place personal political agendas above the common good and suffer no consequence.

My final two targets aren’t part of our governing or electoral systems, but they have played massively important roles in producing America’s current dysfunctions. The first is substandard civic education. This civic deficit was a primary focus of my scholarship for a very long time. Let me just say that when significant segments of the population do not know the history, philosophy or contents of the Constitution or the legal system under which they live, they cannot engage productively in political activities or accurately evaluate the behavior of their elected officials. They cannot be the informed voters the country requires. We see this constitutional ignorance today when people claim that mask or vaccination mandates infringe their liberties. The Bill of Rights has never given Americans the “liberty” to endanger their neighbors.

The final institution that has massively failed us also doesn’t need much editorial comment from me: the current Media—including talk radio, Fox News, social media and the wild west that is the Internet.

Several studies have found that the greatest contributor to political polarization is the growing plurality of news sources and increasing access to cable television. People engage in confirmation bias—they look for viewpoint validation rather than exposure to a common source of verified news.

The Pew Research Center published an extensive investigation into political polarization and media habits in 2014; among their findings, unsurprisingly, was that those categorized as “consistent conservatives” clustered around a single news source: 47% cited Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics, with no other source even close. Among consistent liberals, no outlet was named by more than 15%.

People who routinely consume sharply partisan news coverage are less likely to accept uncongenial facts even when they are accompanied by overwhelming evidence. Fox News and talk radio– with Rush Limbaugh and his imitators– were forerunners of the thousands of Internet sites offering spin, outright propaganda and fake news. Contemporary Americans can choose their preferred “realities” and simply insulate themselves from information that is inconsistent with their worldviews.

Americans is marinating in media, but we’re in danger of losing what used to be called the journalism of verification. The frantic competition for eyeballs and clicks has given us a 24/7 “news hole” that media outlets race to fill, far too often prioritizing speed over accuracy. That same competition has increased media attention to sports, celebrity gossip and opinion, and has greatly reduced coverage of government and policy. The scope and range of watchdog journalism that informs citizens about their government has dramatically declined, especially at the local level. We still have national coverage but with the exception of niche media, we have lost local news. I should also point out that there is a rather obvious relationship between those low levels of civic literacy and the rise of propaganda and fake news.

In order for democracy to function, there must be widespread trust in the integrity of elections and the operation of government. The fundamental democratic idea is a fair fight, a contest between candidates with competing ideas and policy proposals, followed by a winner legitimized and authorized to implement his or her agenda. Increasingly, however, those democratic norms have been replaced by bare-knuckled power plays. The refusal of Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate to “advise and consent” to a sitting President’s nominee for the Supreme Court was a stunning and unprecedented breach of duty that elevated political advantage over the national interest. The dishonesty of that ploy was underlined by his rush to install an ideologically-acceptable replacement almost immediately after Ruth Bader Ginsberg died. No matter what one’s policy preferences or political party, we should all see such behaviors as shocking and damaging deviations from American norms—and as invitations to Democrats to do likewise when they are in charge.

If that invitation is accepted, we’ve lost the rule of law.

One outcome of these demonstrations of toxic partisanship has been a massive loss of trust in government and other social institutions. Without that trust—without a widespread public belief in an overarching political community to which all citizens belong and in which all citizens are valued—tribalism thrives.  Especially in times of rapid social change, racial resentments grow. The divide between urban and rural Americans widens. Economic insecurity and social dysfunction grow in the absence of an adequate social safety net, adding to resentment of both government and “the Other.” It is a prescription for civic unrest and national decline.

If Americans do not engage civically in far greater numbers than we have previously—If we do not reform outdated institutions, protect the right to vote, improve civic education, and support legitimate journalism—that decline will be irreversible.

The good news is that there is evidence that such engagement is underway. We the People can do this.

Thank you.


It’s All Connected

Americans today face an unprecedented challenge. The Internet, which has brought us undeniable benefits and conveniences, also allows us to occupy “filter bubbles”—to inhabit different realities. One result has been a dramatic loss of trust, as people of good will, inundated with misinformation, spin, and propaganda, don’t know how to determine which sources are credible.

Fact-checking sites can be helpful, but only for those who seek them out. The average American scrolling through her Facebook feed during a lunch break is unlikely to stop and check the veracity of most of what her friends post.

There is general agreement that Americans need to develop media literacy. But before we can teach media literacy in the schools or consider policy interventions to address propaganda, we need clarity about our goals.

Think about that fictional person scrolling through her Facebook or Twitter feed. She comes across a post berating her Congressman for failing to block the zoning of a liquor store in her neighborhood. If our person is civically literate—if she understands federalism and separation of powers– she knows that her Congressman has no authority in such matters, and that the argument is bogus.

In other words, basic knowledge of government is a critical component of media literacy. It isn’t just civic knowledge, of course. People who lack a basic understanding of the difference between a scientific theory and the way we use the term “theory” in casual conversation are much more likely to dismiss evolution and climate change as “just theories,” and to be taken in by efforts to discredit both.

In other words, people fortified with basic civic and scientific knowledge are far more likely to recognize disinformation when they encounter it. That knowledge is just as important as information on how to detect “deep fakes” and similar counterfeits.

There are also policy steps we can take to diminish the power of propaganda without doing violence to the First Amendment. I’ve previously noted the Brookings Institution’s suggested establishment of a “public trust” to provide analysis and generate policy proposals that would defend democracy “against the constant stream of disinformation and the illiberal forces at work disseminating it.”

Of course, we don’t encounter disinformation only on line. Cable news has long been a culprit. (One study found that Americans who got their news exclusively from Fox knew less about current events that people who didn’t follow news at all.)  Fox is one of several channels that benefit significantly from “bundling” arrangements favored by cable companies. A regulatory change ending bundling would force cable channels to compete for the eyes, ears and pocketbooks of Americans who haven’t yet abandoned cable for streaming. There are other proposals that would address misinformation without implicating the First Amendment; many address the social media protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Section 230, which says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, online platforms that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do.

Most observers believe that an outright repeal of Section 230 would destroy social networks as we know them, but there is a middle ground between total repeal and pinning our hopes on the willingness of millions of users to voluntarily leave platforms that fail to block misleading posts. Section 230 could be amended by adding a requirement that social media platforms establish an industry standard for detecting and mediating violence, fraud, and abuse. (Such a standard already exists for advertising fraud.) Regulation could also limit Section 230 protections to content that is unmonetized.

Bottom line: we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

America’s classrooms must be given the resources—curricular and financial—to teach civic, scientific and media literacy. And policymakers must devise regulations that will deter propaganda without eviscerating the First Amendment.

It Isn’t Just Media Literacy

Americans today face some unprecedented challenges–and as I have repeatedly noted, our information environment makes those challenges far more difficult to meet.

The Internet, which has brought us undeniable benefits and conveniences, also allows us to occupy “filter bubbles”—to inhabit different realities. One result has been a dramatic loss of trust, as even people of good will, inundated with misinformation, spin, and propaganda, don’t know what to believe, or how to determine which sources are credible.

Fact-checking sites are helpful, but they only help those who seek them out. The average American scrolling through her Facebook feed during a lunch break is unlikely to stop and check the veracity of most of what her friends have posted.

There is general agreement that Americans need to develop media literacy and policy tools to discourage the transmittal of propaganda. But before we can teach media literacy in our schools or consider policy interventions to address propaganda, we need to consider what media literacy requires, and what the First Amendment forbids.

Think about that fictional person scrolling through her Facebook or Twitter feed. She comes across a post berating her Congressman for failing to block the zoning of a liquor store in her neighborhood. If our person is civically literate—if she understands federalism and separation of powers– she knows that her Congressman has no authority in such matters, and that the argument is bogus.

In other words, basic knowledge of how government works is a critical component of media literacy.

It isn’t just civic knowledge, of course. People who lack a basic understanding of the difference between a scientific theory and the way we use the term “theory” in casual conversation are much more likely to dismiss evolution and climate change as “just theories,” and to be taken in by efforts to discredit both.

To be blunt about it, people fortified with basic civic and scientific knowledge are far more likely to recognize disinformation when they encounter it. That knowledge is just as important as information on how to detect “deep fakes” and similar counterfeits.

There are also policy steps we can take to diminish the power of propaganda without doing violence to the First Amendment. The Brookings Institution has suggested establishment of a “public trust” to provide analysis and generate policy proposals that would defend democracy “against the constant stream of disinformation and the illiberal forces at work disseminating it.”

In too many of the discussions of social media and media literacy, we overlook the fact that disinformation isn’t encountered only online. Cable news has long been a culprit. (One study found that Americans who got their news exclusively from Fox knew less about current events than people who didn’t follow news at all.)  Any effort to reduce the flow of propaganda must include measures aimed at cable television as well as online media.

Many proposals that are aimed at online disinformation address the social media protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  I reviewed them here.

Bottom line: we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

If and when we get serious about media literacy, we need to do two things. We need to ensure that America’s classrooms have the resources—curricular and financial—to teach civic, scientific and media literacy. (Critical thinking and logic would also be very helpful…) And policymakers must devise regulations that will deter propaganda without eviscerating the First Amendment. Such regulations are unlikely to totally erase the problem, but well-considered tweaks can certainly reduce it.

Past Time For These–And Other–Reforms

Americans shouldn’t allow Trump’s COVID diagnosis to become the ultimate distraction from the  electoral choices that face us, or the structural challenges we will face even in the best of electoral circumstances.

The bottom line is that, even If America rids itself of Trump and his GOP enablers, citizens will still have a lot of work to do. We can no longer pretend that our electoral and legal systems are working as intended– for that matter, several are not working at all.

The Democrats, at least, have noticed.

On September 23d, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece authored by several Congressional Democrats, including Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler. Noting that Trump was the first President to ignore the reforms passed in the wake of Watergate, they wrote that

With a lawless president in office who acts as if rules are for suckers, political norms for losers and governing for chumps, it is clear we need a new series of reforms to protect our democracy.

On Wednesday, we are introducing such reforms, which we began drafting more than a year ago not only to address the president’s unique abuses, but also to go beyond them to restore accountability, root out corruption and ensure transparency in government for future White House occupants.

The reforms these lawmakers are proposing include amending the pardon power to make it clear that a President cannot pardon himself or his immediate family, adding teeth to the emoluments clause by adding explicit enforcement provisions and enhanced penalties, and increasing financial disclosure rules.

The bill also addresses the need to strengthen accountability and transparency. The op-ed notes that Trump has “obstructed congressional oversight, targeted whistleblowers who speak out against him and fired officials whose responsibility is to objectively investigate wrongdoing in the federal government,” and states the obvious: that  Congress needs access to documents and  the ability to compel testimony from witnesses in order to conduct that oversight. Their bill strengthens Congress’ right to enforce its subpoenas in court, and has other provisions aimed at improving congress’ ability to discharge its duties as  a co-equal branch of government.

The bill also contains measures that are a direct response to Trump’s contempt for the rule of law and for democratic norms:

We must also reclaim Congress’s power of the purse from an overzealous executive branch, increase transparency around government spending and ensure there are consequences to deter the misuse of taxpayer funds. Our bill will prevent the executive branch from using nonpublic documents or secret legal opinions to circumvent Congress and unilaterally enact its agenda behind closed doors. Our bill will impose limits on presidential declarations of emergencies and any powers triggered by such declarations, unless extended by a congressional vote, and require the president to provide all documents regarding presidential emergency actions to Congress.

These and the other reforms enumerated in the bill are welcome and probably overdue. The ability to pass the measure rather obviously depends upon turning the Senate blue on November 3rd.

But here’s my problem.

So long as most Americans don’t understand the rules we already have, or the reasons we have them–so long as they fail to recognize the profound effect legal structure exerts on the mechanics of government, we are ignoring one of the most dangerous threats to ethical and constitutional governance: widespread civic ignorance.

Far too many Americans vote for presidents and governors and mayors without understanding either the skills required for those jobs or–even more importantly–the constraints applicable to those positions. They evidently assume that they are electing temporary kings and queens–people who will take office, issue decrees, and change reality. (Trump’s base, for example, evidently thinks his constant stream of “Executive Orders” all have legal effect, although few do.) Worse, they fail to recognize the ways in which structures that were useful (or at least, less harmful) in the past have distorted the exercise of the franchise and given us a system in which rural minorities and thinly populated states dominate an overwhelmingly urban country.

When you don’t understand how a system works–or why it is no longer working properly–your ability to make informed choices at the ballot box is impaired.

The reforms listed in the linked op-ed are among the many changes we need to make. But a thoughtful discussion of those needed reforms requires a voting public that understands why America’s systems aren’t functioning properly–and what “properly” looks like.

Tomorrow, I will address additional needed reforms.





Civic Ignorance and Democratic Accountability

Published in Loyola Law Journal

There is growing recognition that Americans’ diminished civic participation and the erosion of democratic norms are linked to low levels of civic literacy, defined as a basic understanding of the structures and values of American Constitutional government. This Essay considers the evidence for that link and the importance of civic education in a diverse society.

Introduction………………………………………………………………………. 419
I.  Civic Ignorance……………………………………………………………….. 420
II.  Democratic Vitality and the (Un)Informed Voter…………… 421
A.  How Did We Get Here?…………………………………………….. 423
III.  Consequences……………………………………………………………….. 426
IV.  America’s Civil Religion……………………………………………….. 428
For at least the past decade, political scientists have expressed growing concern over the erosion of democratic norms as well as the inadequacies and outright corruption of both governance structures and electoral processes.[1] Those expressions of concern markedly accelerated in the wake of the 2016 election, which saw accusations of vote irregularities, various “dirty tricks,” and the victory—compliments of the Electoral College—of a candidate who lost the popular vote by a margin of nearly three million.[2]
Scholars and pundits have offered a variety of theories to explain the loss of democratic accountability, and many of their analyses are persuasive. Undoubtedly, a number of factors have contributed to the current weaknesses of America’s democratic systems. It is the thesis of this paper, however, that the significance of one such contributing cause is routinely underappreciated: the American public’s lack of civic literacy.[3]

I.  Civic Ignorance
A substantial and growing body of data indicates that a majority of Americans are woefully ignorant of America’s Constitution and basic legal structures. In 2016, only 26 percent of the American public could name the three branches of government.[4]Fewer than half of twelfth graders are able to describe the meaning of federalism and only 35 percent of teenagers can correctly identify “We the People” as the first three words of the Constitution.[5] In a survey cited by the Carnegie Foundation, just over one third of Americans thought that, while the Founding Fathers gave each branch of government significant power, they gave the president “the final say,”[6] and just under half (47 percent) knew that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same legal weight as a 9-0 ruling.[7] Almost one third mistakenly believed that a United States Supreme Court ruling could be appealed,[8]and one in five believed that when the Supreme Court divides 5-4, the decision is referred to Congress for resolution.[9] A mere 14 percent of the public thought the case would be sent back to the lower courts.[10] Thus, there is an enormous amount of research confirming the nature and extent of Americans’ civic deficit.[11]

II.  Democratic Vitality and the (Un)Informed Voter
There is, as noted above, widespread agreement among scholars and pundits that the United States has experienced a significant erosion of democratic processes and norms and a corresponding loss of democratic legitimacy.[12] Voters exhibit high levels of distrust of the country’s political structures and express considerable cynicism about the nation’s governance.

A survey of the relevant literature suggests that the erosion of American democracy can be attributed to three interrelated causes: ignorance (especially of politics and governance, and defined as a lack of essential information, not stupidity); the growth of inequality (not just economic inequality, but also civic inequality, and power and informational asymmetries); and a resurgent tribalism (racism and White Nationalism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, the urban/rural divide, and political identity).

On a personal level, civic ignorance complicates the interactions between citizens and their government that are an almost daily part of American life in the twenty-first century. Ignorance also exacerbates inequality; citizens who understand how the political system works are advantaged in a number of ways over those who do not. Ignorance of the overarching national principles to which citizens are bound encourages political constituencies to work for passage of laws and policies advantageous to their specific interests (or consistent with their parochial worldviews) that often conflict with both the Constitution and the common good.

Americans’ cynicism about government and their fear and suspicion of those they see as “other” have been exacerbated by a media environment in which large amounts of disinformation are disseminated through websites and multiplying social media platforms.[13] Spin, propaganda, “fake news,” and outright conspiracies thrive in the Wild West that is the internet, and civic ignorance facilitates their wide acceptance. According to American Intelligence agencies, Russian “bots” successfully exploited both that ignorance and America’s tribal differences during the 2016 election cycle.[14]

A.  How Did We Get Here?
In Diversity and Distrust, Stephen Macedo addressed the importance of civic education and the civic mission of the nation’s public schools.[15] As he wrote, the project of creating citizens is one that every liberal democratic state must undertake, and that project requires what he called “a degree of moral convergence” in order to sustain a constitutional order.[16] The most pluralist, diverse, and tolerant polities still require substantial agreement on basic political values. Such agreement (or disagreement, for that matter) requires knowing those values. The primary responsibility for transmitting that information lies with the public schools.

American public education has been criticized and attacked for years. Business organizations complain about inadequate workforce development; technology companies demand more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) instruction.[17] Urban minority populations point to glaring evidence of unequal resources between schools attended primarily by poor children and those located in wealthier suburbs.[18] Popular magazines “rate” high schools and colleges by calculating the percentages of students who are gainfully employed upon graduation, and state-level legislators respond to the critics by requiring ever-more rigorous high-stakes testing, and threatening to “weed out” teachers whose classes fail to meet the desired test results. That testing almost never includes evaluation of civic competence.[19]

In many states, privatization advocates have established state voucher programs that permit parents to remove their children from the public school systems entirely and send them to private (almost always religious) schools.[20] A recent survey I conducted with a colleague found that none of those programs require participating schools to offer civics instruction.[21]Although the outcomes of these and other specific efforts to improve public education range from distressing to debatable, the very different diagnoses of the systems’ problems and reformers’ very different prescriptions for improvement have highlighted what may be the most significant impediment to effective education reform: a lack of agreement about what education is, how success should be measured, and what the mission of public schools should encompass in a diverse and democratic nation.[22] To say that people engaged in this public debate are continuing to talk past each other would be an understatement.

Education reform that neglects the civic mission of public schools would seem to be inadequate by definition, yet education reformers have only recently begun to focus on the importance of civic education.[23] An added irony of that neglect is that schools are increasingly being tasked with helping students achieve “news literacy” by equipping them with tools they can use to assess the credibility of the media sources they encounter.[24] One of the most effective such tools is civic knowledge. When a website, blog, or other news source accuses a political figure of doing or failing to do something that falls outside her authority, or makes a claim that is otherwise inconsistent with American constitutional principles or governance structures, students who are civically literate are far more likely to recognize those misstatements and to question the credibility of the sources providing them.

The contrast between students in the majority of states, which have largely abandoned the teaching of civics, with students from those few that continue to offer and fund effective civic education is striking. In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the activism and eloquence of the students who survived frequently raised the question: Why are these kids so articulate and effective?
As the Christian Science Monitor explained, “[t]hanks to state law, [Marjory Stoneman Douglas students] have benefited from a civic education that many Americans have gone without—one that has taught them how to politically mobilize, articulate their opinions, and understand complex legislative processes. Now they are using their education to lead their peers across the country.”[25]

“Parkland really shows the potential of public civic education,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.[26] “The goal is to make every student like that—not afraid to discuss difficult issues,” and to teach students the skills and knowledge necessary to express a viewpoint.[27]

In 1996, Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter published What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters.[28] It remains one of the most important studies of America’s low levels of civic literacy. As they wrote:

[F]actual knowledge about politics is a critical component of citizenship, one that is essential if citizens are to discern their real interests and take effective advantage of the civic opportunities afforded them . . . knowledge is a keystone to other civic requisites.  In the absence of adequate information neither passion nor reason is likely to lead to decisions that reflect the real interests of the public. And democratic principles must be understood to be accepted and acted on in any meaningful way.[29]

When America’s schools ignore their responsibility to provide students with an adequate civic education, there are no other institutions able to fill the resulting vacuum.

III.  Consequences
As a purely practical matter, individuals who don’t know what officeholders do, who don’t understand the division of responsibility between federal, state, and local government units, who don’t know who has authority to solve their problems with zoning or trash removal or missing social security payments, or the myriad other issues that arise at the intersection of public services and individual needs, lack personal efficacy. At best, that lack of knowledge is a barrier to the prompt resolution of issues that most citizens must deal with. At worst, it puts them at a considerable disadvantage in legal or political conflicts with more informed citizens.

The multiple implications for democratic governance, however, are far more serious than the personal disadvantages exacerbated by civic ignorance. For one thing, voters who have only the haziest notion of the tasks for which their elected officials are responsible have no way of evaluating the performance of those officials for purposes of casting informed votes. Voters who don’t understand checks and balances or the functions of the judiciary are more easily persuaded that “imperial” courts have acted illegitimately when a decision is issued with which they disagree, and to believe that the courts should represent majority opinion rather than uphold the rule of law.[30] Voters who don’t know their rights are more easily deprived of those rights by state actors who are acting illegitimately, as various examples of vote suppression have illustrated. Citizens intimidated by authority are unlikely to petition local or state government agencies for redress of grievances, whether those grievances are streets and sidewalks in disrepair or partisan gerrymandering.[31] Additionally, research confirms that less knowledgeable citizens are less likely to engage with the democratic system, and much less likely to vote.[32] Civic ignorance ultimately results in civic inequality.

Even more troubling is the fact that people who have never encountered, and thus don’t understand, the basic philosophy of the United States Constitution can neither form an allegiance to its principles nor articulate reasons for rejecting such an allegiance. Lack of knowledge of the structures of governance, and the lack of personal and democratic efficacy that results, breeds suspicion and cynicism about the powers that be. These attitudes not only discourage civic participation, but also have a detrimental effect upon the individual’s identification with other American citizens. As a result, rather than seeing themselves as part of the American mosaic, rather than seeing American diversity through the lens of e pluribus unum, the loyalties of the uninformed tend to default to their tribal affiliations.

Unlike citizens of countries characterized by racial or ethnic homogeneity, American identity is rooted in allegiance to a particular worldview; it is based upon an understanding of government and citizenship originating with the Enlightenment and subsequently enshrined in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. When a polity is diverse, as in the United States, it is particularly important that citizens know the history and philosophy of their governing institutions. In the absence of other ties—race, religion, national origin—a common devotion to constitutional principles and democratic norms is critical to the formation of national identity. That devotion obviously requires knowing what those principles and norms are. If American diversity means that our national ideals must constitute our civil religion and act as our social glue, ignorance of those ideals becomes far more consequential than is commonly understood.

The United States’ national motto, e pluribus unum, translates into “out of the many, one,” and political theorists have long argued that a common belief structure, or civil religion, is required in order to turn the many into the one.[33] Traditional religions cannot serve that purpose in our polyglot society; adherents of virtually every religion on the globe live in the United States, and recent polls show considerable growth in the numbers of Americans who consider all religion irrelevant to their lives and value structures.[34] Americans don’t share races or ethnicities or countries of origin, and those who live in different parts of the United States occupy different political and social cultures. These extensive differences raise profoundly important questions: What commonalities are available to enable and define the collective civic enterprise? What makes one an American?

IV.  America’s Civil Religion
The term “civil religion” was first coined in 1967 by Robert N. Bellah, and it remains the standard reference for the concept.[35] The proper content of such a civil religion, however, has been the subject of debate since the Revolutionary War. Over the past decades, as the nation’s diversity has dramatically increased, that debate has taken on added urgency. A civil religion, or common value structure, provides citizens with a sense of common purpose and identity. Despite the claims of some conservative Christians, Christianity does not provide that social glue; the United States is not, and has never been, an officially Christian nation, although culturally it has historically been Protestant. Furthermore, the United States Constitution contains no reference to deity, and Article VI, Clause 3, specifically rejects the use of any religious test for citizenship or public office.[36] In order to be consistent with the Constitution, any civil religion must respect the nation’s commitment to individual autonomy in matters of belief, while still providing an overarching value structure to which most, if not all, citizens can subscribe. This is no small task in a nation founded upon the principle that government must be neutral among belief systems. This constitutionally-required state neutrality has long been a source of considerable political tension between citizens intent upon imposing their religious beliefs on their neighbors and those who reject efforts to enforce religious hegemony.[37] Americans’ dramatically different approaches to traditional religion and spirituality means that religious theologies cannot serve as the country’s civil religion.

However, most Americans do claim to endorse an overarching ideology, or civil religion: a belief system based upon the values of individual liberty and equal rights enshrined in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.[38] If those claims are to have actual content, if allegiance to the Constitution is to function as an “umbrella” belief system that supersedes tribalism, citizens must have a familiarity with its principles and their application, and a common understanding of their proper application.
Currently, they do not.

Significantly improving citizens’ levels of civic literacy will not magically repair America’s currently broken governance, but we will not be able to fix what is broken without such improvement. Civic literacy is not sufficient, but it is essential.

*Sheila Kennedy is Professor of Law and Policy at the Paul H. O’Neil School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, and the founder of the Center for Civic Literacy at IUPUI.

[1].See Nancy Bermeo, On Democratic Backsliding, 27 J. Democracy 5, 13 (2016) (“Strategic election manipulation . . . is on the rise . . . .”); see also Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die 2 (Penguin Random House 2019) (2018) (“American politicians now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices.”). There are literally hundreds more articles and books charting concerns about the diminishing of democratic norms. In October of 2017, Vox convened a group of twenty noted scholars at Yale University to discuss the status of democratic self-government. There was broad agreement that American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts—socially, culturally, and economically. See Sean Illing, 20 of America’s Top Political Scientists Gathered to Discuss Our Democracy. They’re Scared., Vox (Oct. 13, 2017), https://www.vox.com/2017/10/13/16431502/
america-democracy-decline-liberalism [https://perma.cc/K8LT-N7M2] (“The scholars pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion.”).
[2].In 2012, Common Cause and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights compiled a report identifying growing examples of vote suppression. See Common Cause & Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Deceptive Election Practices and Voter Intimidation: The Need for Voter Protection 1, 2 (2012), https://lawyerscommittee.org/wp-content/
uploads/2015/07/DeceptivePracticesReportJuly2012FINALpdf.pdf [https://perma.cc/9AQA-REM6] [hereinafter Common Cause Vote Suppression Report 2012] (“These ‘dirty tricks’ often take the form of flyers or robocalls that give voters false information about the time, place, or manner of an election, political affiliation of candidates, or criminal penalties associated with voting.”); see also Joshua Clark, Widening the Lens on Voter Suppression: From Calculating Lost Votes to Fighting for Effective Voting Rights 9(Haas Inst. for a Fair & Inclusive Soc’y at UC-Berkeley 2018), https://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/haas
_institute_wideningthelensonvotersuppression_july2018_publish.pdf [https://perma.cc/K6VQ-JMJB] (“Since the 2016 presidential election, public interest in voting misconduct has surged . . . .”).
[3].See Michael X. Delli Carpini & Scott Keeter, What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters 278 (Yale University Press 1996) (“[S]ubstantial differences between advantaged and disadvantaged citizens and groups in access to political knowledge (and the means for efficiently acquiring it over a lifetime) will remain.”); Robert L. Dudley & Alan R. Gitelson, Political Literacy, Civic Education, and Civic Engagement: A Return to Political Socialization?, 6 Applied Dev. Sci. 175, 176 (2002) (“A 1987 survey conducted by the National Constitution Center, for instance, concluded that 62% of the respondents could not name all three branches of government.”). See generallyWilliam A. Galston, Civic Knowledge, Civic Education, and Civic Engagement: A Summary of Recent Research, 30 Int’l J. Pub. Admin. 623 (2007). For an overview of the copious literature documenting Americans’ lack of civic literacy, see the annotated bibliography maintained by the Center for Civic Literacy at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Ind. Univ. Ctr. for Civil Literacy, Annotated Bibliography, https://civicliteracy.iupui.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Annotated-Bibliography_CCL.pdf [https://perma.cc/3K3Q-5QLB] (last updated Sept. 11, 2013) [hereinafter IUPUI Annotated Bibliography].
[4].Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2018 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey 1, 1 (2018), https://cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/
Appendix_2018_Annenberg_civics_survey.pdf [https://perma.cc/E7V7-YBBZ] [hereinafter Annenberg Survey].
[5].Sheila Kennedy, Is Low Civic Literacy a Wicked Problem?, Ind. Univ. Ctr. for Civic Literacy: Civic Blog (Jan. 1, 2015), https://civicliteracy.iupui.edu/is-low-civic-literacy-a-wicked-problem/ [https://perma.cc/D9KR-UBP8] (“Only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government. Fewer than half of 12th grade students can describe the meaning of federalism. Only 35% of teenagers can identify ‘We the People’ as the first three words of the Constitution. Fifty-eight percent of Americans can’t identify a single department in the United States Cabinet. Only 5% of high school seniors can identify checks on presidential power, only 43% could name the two major political parties, only 11% knew the length of a Senator’s term, and only 23% could name the first President of the United States.”).
[6].Leonore Annenberg Inst. for Civics, Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools 4 (Jonathan Gould et al. eds, 2011), https://www.carnegie.org/media/filer_public/
ab/dd/abdda62e-6e84-47a4-a043-348d2f2085ae/ccny_grantee_2011_guardian.pdf [https://perma.cc/B52R-8KVR] [hereinafter Guardian of Democracy].
[7].Annenberg Survey, supra note 4, at 5.
[8].Guardian of Democracy, supra note 6 at 4.
[11].The Center for Civic Literacy at IUPUI has been researching both the causes and consequences of that civic deficit since 2012, and has produced both a body of original research and an annotated bibliography detailing the copious amount of previously existing scholarship about what Americans know and don’t, and why that ignorance matters. See IUPUI Annotated Bibliography, supra note 3.
[12].See Meira Levinson, The Civic Empowerment Gap: Defining the Problem and Locating Solutions, in Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth 331 (Lonnie R. Sherrod, Judith Torney-Purta, & Constance A. Flanagan eds., 2010) (“[T]here is a profound civic empowerment gap in the United States . . . . [P]olitical power is distributed in vastly unequal ways among U.S. citizens.”); see also Ludvig Beckman, Deciding the Demos: Three Conceptions of Democratic Legitimacy, 22 Critical Rev. Int’l Soc. & Pol. Phil. 412 (2019).
[13].See Robert Chesney & Danielle K. Citron, Disinformation on Steroids, Council on Foreign Rel. (Oct. 16, 2018), https://www.cfr.org/report/deep-fake-disinformation-steroids [https://perma.cc/J64L-DTHT] (“In the United States and many other countries, society already grapples with surging misinformation resulting from the declining influence of quality-controlled mass media and the growing significance of social media as a comparatively unfiltered, many-to-many news source.”); see also Chris Meserole, How Misinformation Spreads on Social Media, and What to Do About It, Brookings Inst. (May 9, 2018), https://www.brookings.edu/
blog/order-from-chaos/2018/05/09/how-misinformation-spreads-on-social-media-and-what-to-do-about-it/ [https://perma.cc/7XGS-CP4K] (“The flow of misinformation on Twitter is thus a function of both human and technical factors. Human biases play an important role: Since we’re more likely to react to content that taps into our existing grievances and beliefs, inflammatory tweets will generate quick engagement.”).
[14].See Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President 43 (2018) (“With a large network consisting of Russian trolls, true believers, and bots, it suddenly became easier to get topics trending with a barrage of tweets.”); see also Martin Matishak, Intelligence Heads Warn of More Aggressive Election Meddling in 2020, Politico (Jan. 29, 2019), www.politico.com/story/2019/01/29/dan-coats-2020-election-foreign-interference/ [https://perma.cc/5ZB4-TDSL] (“[T]he clandestine community remains keenly aware of the threat following the massive, Kremlin-backed assault on the 2016 presidential election.”).
[15].Stephen Macedo, Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy 230 (2000) (“The one thing we should not do is to ignore the civic purposes that have so powerfully shaped the institution of public schooling.”).
[16].Id. at 2.
[17].See James Bessen, Workers Don’t Have the Skills They Need – and They Know It, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Sept. 17, 2014), https://hbr.org/2014/09/workers-dont-have-the-skills-they-need-and-they-know-it [https://perma.cc/Y4BS-7L77] (“[E]mployers have repeatedly reported that they have difficulty finding workers with the skills needed for today’s jobs.”); see also Arthur Herman, America’s High-Tech STEM Crisis, Forbes (Sept. 10, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/
arthurherman/2018/09/10/americas-high-tech-stem-crisis/ [https://perma.cc/22RW-ZUJX] (“Experts have complained for decades that Americans don’t excel enough in the so-called STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.”).
[18].Rebecca Bellan, $23 Billion Education Funding Report Reveals Less Money for City Kids, CityLab (Mar. 27, 2019), www.citylab.com/equity/2019/03/education-nonwhite-urban-school-districts-funding-tax/585691 [https://perma.cc/46LY-PCTN].
[19].See Cullen C. Merritt et al., The Civic Dimension of School Voucher Programs, Pub. Integrity Online (Dec. 20, 2018) (manuscript at 11–14), manuscript available at https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/17672/Merritt,%20Kennedy,%20Farnworth.pdf?sequence=1 [https://perma.cc/4HRS-GCU7] (noting the limited prevalence of civics courses in both public and private elementary school settings).
[20].Id. (manuscript at 6) (citing Henry M. Levin, A Comprehensive Framework for Evaluating Educational Vouchers, 24 Educ. Eval. & Pol’y Analysis 159, 168 (2002)).
[21].Id. (manuscript at 28).
[22].Id. (manuscript at 16).
[23].A recent report from the National Council for the Social Studies, titled Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools, confirms both the sad state of civic knowledge and the gradual recognition that schools need to do better. Nat’l Council for the Soc. Studies, Revitalizing Civic Learning in Our Schools (2013), https://www.socialstudies.org/positions/revitalizing_civic_
learning [https://perma.cc/W6SZ-FQSR] (“[T]he narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred over the past several years combined with the scarce attention to civic learning in a number of state standards and assessment measures has had a devastating effect on schools’ ability to provide high quality civic education to all students. Further threatening the civic health of our nation is the civic opportunity gap that emerges when schools provide poor and nonwhite students fewer and less high-quality civic learning opportunities than they provide to middle class and wealthy white students—all of this at a time when democratic aspirations are surging across the globe.”).
[24].See Erika Karp, Stony Brook’s Center for News Literacy Launches Groundbreaking MOOC, Ctr. for News Literacy (Dec. 12, 2016) https://www.centerfornewsliteracy.org/stony-brooks-center-for-news-literacy-launches-groundbreaking-mooc/ [https://perma.cc/2TG4-CZHD] (explaining the Center’s new course intended to help students determine the credibility of news).
[25].Story Hinckley, Teens Take the National State, Armed with . . . Civics Lessons?, Christian Sci. Monitor (Mar. 23, 2018), https://www.csmonitor.com/EqualEd/2018/0323/Teens-take-the-national-stage-armed-with-civics-lessons [https://perma.cc/B2EA-B6SW].
[28].Carpini & Keeter, supra note 3.
[29].Id. at 5.
[30].Alia Wong, Civics Education Helps Create Young Voters and Activists, Atlantic (Oct. 5, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/10/civics-education-helps-form-young-voters-and-activists/572299/ [https://perma.cc/9J7Q-9RHC].
[31].See Sheila Kennedy, God and Country: America in Red and Blue 67 (Baylor University Press 2007) [hereinafter Kennedy, God and Country] (discussing inherent tension between local and federal determination of policy). See generally Sheila Suess Kennedy, What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing in the ACLU? (Prometheus Books 1997).
[32].Alex Vandermaas-Peeler et al., American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation, and Polarization, PRRI (July 7, 2018), https://www.prri.org/research/
american-democracy-in-crisis-voters-midterms-trump-election-2018/ [https://perma.cc/8623-5VST]; see also William A. Galston, Political Knowledge, Political Engagement, and Civic Education, 4 Ann. Rev. Pol. Sci. 217, 223–24 (2001) (discussing the significance of political knowledge and the direct relationship between such knowledge and participation in public matters).
[33].See Robert N. Bellah, Civil Religion in America, 96 Daedalus 1, 5–9 (1967) (explaining how religions work with one another to create a civil religion in America).
[34].See Jack Jenkins, ‘Nones’ Now as Big as Evangelicals, Catholics in the U.S., Religion News Serv. (Mar. 21, 2019), https://religionnews.com/2019/03/21/nones-now-as-big-as-evangelicals-catholics-in-the-us/ [https://perma.cc/B86R-32EK] (noting a 2 percent rise in Americans who report having no religious traditions since 2016, matching overall identification of both Evangelicals and Catholics).
[35].See generally Bellah, supra note 33.
[36].U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 3 (“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”).
[37].American legal history is replete with cases challenging prayer and religious practices in the nation’s public schools, and the propriety of affixing religious mottos to public buildings. Meanwhile, efforts to make American law conform to the beliefs of some religious denominations about abortion are, if anything, more fervent than ever, as are efforts to roll back hard-won civil rights of LGBTQ citizens.
[38].See Kennedy, God and Country, supra note 31, at 35.

The cultural transmission of religious worldviews has clearly contributed to the salience of religion as a persistent feature of the American experience. Despite the religious fervor of the Great Awakening and the explicitly religious ideology expressed through the revolution, at the time of the nation’s founding, only 17 percent of Americans were actually members of any church. Despite this low level of actual religious affiliation, the then prevailing cultural worldviews rooted in religion have shaped later American attitudes in numerous ways.