The Washington Post

1 in 4 Americans have no idea which party controls the Senate or the House

Here's your humbling political stat of the day: Only four in 10 Americans can correctly identify which party controls the majority in the House and Senate, according to a new Pew Research Center study on Americans' political beliefs. Thirty-three percent of Americans can identify the majority party in only one chamber, and 28 percent -- more than one in four people (!) -- have completely no idea.


Sad? Sure. Surprising? Nope.

Americans have never had an especially good track record when it comes to scoring A+ on questions that test their knowledge of basic political trivia instead of their feelings. There have always been people who don't pay attention to politics, and there always will be.  (Worth noting: The more partisan you are, the more likely you're going to know who is running things in the legislative branch.)

To wit:

A 1996 survey conducted by The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 40 percent of Americans did not know that Republicans held the majority in the House and Senate.

* A 2012 survey conducted by showed that two-thirds of Americans couldn't name a single Supreme Court justice.

* In 2011, Newsweek gave the U.S. Citizenship Test to 1,000 Americans. Twenty-nine percent couldn't name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn't identify the reasons we fought the Cold War.

* In 2007, a Pew study showed that 41 percent of Americans knew who Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was.

* In 2012, a Pew study showed that 55 percent of Americans could identify which party Abraham Lincoln belonged to. Only 53 percent of Democrats knew FDR was a Democrat.

However, the survey also showed that Americans could match issues to the party fighting for them.

* A 2011 Pew survey showed that 46 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 knew the current unemployment rate.

* In April, the Monkey Cage blog found that Americans who couldn't find Ukraine on a map were more likely to want the United States to intervene militarily.

* A 1999 Gallup survey found that 18 percent of Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth.

* A 2011 Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 38 percent of Americans could correctly identify all three branches of government.

* A 1986 survey found that 30 percent of Americans could explain what Roe v. Wade did.

* A 2006 Associated Press story noted: "About one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances). But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of  ['The Simpsons'], according to a survey."

* A 1999 survey found that 15 percent of Texans didn't know who George W. Bush was.

* A May 2014 survey showed that 53 percent of Oregon citizens knew that each state gets two senators.

* In 1978, fewer than one-third of New Jersey residents knew that Clifford Case was one of their senators. He had been their senator since 1955. Many blamed the fact that New Jersey doesn't have its own TV market. (It's covered by Philadelphia and New York City.)

* In 1995, 53 percent of Americans knew Boris Yeltsin was the president of Russia.

* A 1999 survey from Project Vote Smart found that 38 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 didn't know the Supreme Court decides whether laws are constitutional or not.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.



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