37 percent of Americans don’t know what the First Amendment does
Perhaps part of the reason Donald Trump has been so successful in using the press as his own WWE-esque foil is because a good chunk of Americans doesn’t understand the First Amendment at all.
A new study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37 percent of Americans can’t name any of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. On top of that, 39 percent of people surveyed support allowing Congress to stop news media from reporting on issues of national security without government approval, which runs against the First Amendment itself. The survey found that opposition to this kind of prior restraint has been eroding — in 2016, 55 percent of people opposed it; this year, only 49 percent did.
After a year of protests in the streets (which are covered by the First Amendment) and attacks on the press — in Trump rallies, online and at protests — the figures are a bit jarring.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said in a statement. “The fact that many don’t is worrisome. These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”
Only 48 percent of people surveyed could even name that free speech is a right protected by the First Amendment.
Folks, things are not looking good, and it’s hard to see how they’re going to get any better. We have battered the world with the most intense, inescapable news cycles in modern history, and yet we’re still apparently not having any success in getting people to pay more attention. Even in extremely liberal and politically engaged New York City, where the people have been frothing at the mouth about the importance of voting every single election, a pitiful 435,000 people voted in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, one of the lowest turnouts since the 1960s.
How do you motivate a country to get involved when a good chunk don’t even know their rights, or want to be involved, in the first place?
As a reminder, here’s the text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.