Are You Smarter Than The Average American?

Floral Park seniors complete survey on history and government with mixed results


Matt Denaro, Staff Writer

Can you name the current Vice President of the United States? If the answer is no, you’re not alone.

While Americans continue to demonstrate their ignorance of history and the government, political commentators, journalists and even comedians highlight just how uninformed some Americans are about their own country.

In mid-January, The Shield conducted a survey and asked seniors at Floral Park Memorial High School to answer five questions anonymously. The survey asked the following open-ended questions:

  1. Who is the Vice President?
  2. Who is the Speaker of the House?
  3. What country did the United States declare independence from?
  4. How many people are on the Supreme Court?

A final question asked them to identify when the Civil War occurred, within the correct 50-year time period.

A total of 170 people responded to the survey with very few answering all five questions correctly. However, there were a few memorable responses that would have provided Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon with great material for their shows.

According to a 2010 Pew Research Poll, 59% of Americans could correctly identify the Vice President as Joe Biden. This was a question that Floral Park Memorial seniors outperformed the average American, with 83% responding correctly. The only question the class of 2015 scored higher on was identifying Great Britain (England was also accepted) as the country that colonists declared independence from in 1776. Only 13% answered this incorrectly, again better than the 25% who were unable to recall this answer according to a Marist College Poll in 2011.

The other three questions were not as impressive. Only 40% of seniors could accurately identify John Boehner as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. There were, however, some humorous incorrect responses including the crybaby, former President Millard Fillmore and, my personal favorite, “the loudest.”

Less than half of the respondents could also identify that there are nine people on the Supreme Court, or that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900 (with the exact years being 1861-1865).

Most social studies teachers would be outraged with these results, as clearly there is a lack of general knowledge throughout the population. With a presidential election in 2016, one would hope that political and historical illiteracy and apathy would be the exception and not the rule. Are schools not adequately teaching this information? Are students not paying attention? Is the emphasis on English and mathematics at the elementary level diminishing the time spent on social studies?

These are not questions that are easily answered. But one thing is certain. If you want to avoid being mocked by an interviewer on the street, make sure you are well-versed in history and the government… or walk the other way.