Hilary Crow Hilary Crow
Vice President, Civics, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Clara Pino Clara Pino
Director, Digital Content and Marketing, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Published

March 13, 2024

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Polarizing headlines inescapably dominate news cycles, but does that truly reflect our current state of American civic life? The short answer is no. It’s far more nuanced than that, and our research shows there are plenty of opportunities for improvement and reasons to be hopeful about the road ahead.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, we recently polled American citizens to better understand this landscape. This data is critical to informing our work through The Civic Trust®, a nonpartisan educational initiative focused on elevating civics as a national priority with programs that advance and promote civic knowledge in schools, workplaces, and communities.

We commissioned The RXN Group, a research-driven strategic consultancy, to execute a two-phased approach to this research in October 2023. First, we conducted four online focus groups with Democrat and Republican voters, split by age (18-44; 45+). Then, we fielded an online survey with 2,000 registered voters.

The findings revealed an alarming truth ahead of America’s 250th anniversary—the nation’s civic knowledge is badly lagging. However, the national survey also shows that while Americans lack basic understanding of government, trust in business remains strong.

Key Findings

  • 70% of Americans fail a basic civic literacy quiz.
  • 62% are optimistic about solving problems while many believe political division is a major problem and we’re on the wrong track.
  • 82% believe American businesses can play an important role in helping bring people together.

Civic Knowledge is Lacking

More than 70% of Americans fail a basic civic literacy quiz on topics like the three branches of government, the number of Supreme Court justices, and other basic functions of our democracy. Just half were able to correctly name the branch of government where bills become laws.

  • 67%
    recall taking a class on civics in high school.
  • 33%
    wish certain subjects like our economic and political systems were better taught in schools.
  • 25%
    say they are very confident they could explain how our government works.
  • 39%
    did not feel well prepared to be well-informed, active citizens.

More than 9 in ten Americans (93%) believe that a civics education is important to the success of our country, but just 42% believe we are doing a good job at it, and majorities believe our children are unprepared to be well-informed, active citizens.


Level Set Public Opinion

There was a great deal of pessimism about the country, and a universal agreement that we are too politically divided. In fact, political division (76%) and “failing democracy” (68%) are the two biggest problems Americans identified from a list that this country is facing. But most also believe things can and will turn around.​

a diagram of a problem

Despite the belief that we are too politically divided, most people felt the government has a positive role to play. Across all respondents, there were higher levels of confidence in local government than in the federal government.​ People also said that “regular citizens” have a bigger role to play in solving our problems than national figures. These results highlight the importance of focusing efforts at the local level with the people who live, work, and go to school in those communities.  

As we approach our semiquincentennial in 2026, there is very little awareness – currently – about any coordinated efforts to organize around the 250th. But Americans will view well – even very well – companies that get publicly involved in 250th activities (93%; 57% “very well”). 

Americans assign high importance to July 4th (86%, 61% “very”) – and an overwhelming majority (86%) think the holiday should be more important. For most, there was a desire for July 4th to mean more, especially if the country were moving in a better direction; an acknowledgment of our history and progress, with an eye toward a better future.​

Focus Group Participant

Our Outlook is Bright

In all the groups, participants placed high value on the importance of civic awareness and engagement.​ There was general agreement that learning how things should work and the value of listening to those who might not agree (embracing our diversity) were integral to the success of our country.​

a red and white rectangle with white text

Particularly at the local level, businesses have an open invitation to play a constructive, positive role.​ Businesses stepping up during COVID to help people – such as switching to making hand sanitizer, producing masks, etc. – was a perfect example of being a constructive partner in improving things. By not appearing to choose sides on more contentious issues, businesses have a chance to bring people together in the pursuit of a public good.​​

  • 82%
    believe American businesses can play an important role in helping bring people together.
  • 80%
    hold positive views of large and small businesses alike.
  • 93%
    would react positively if companies publicly tried improving our country.

The data speak clearly – people welcome employers’ help. As trusted institutions, there’s an opportunity for business leaders to drive significant impact in elevating civics as a national priority – for the current workforce and for the next generation. Business leaders must partner with educators in steering a new generation toward constructive civic participation. 

Here are a few ways you can get started:

  1. Continue learning and growing. Start with our quick quiz to test your own civic knowledge and find more resources online.
  2. Attend a National Civics Bee® competition. See our solutions in action and celebrate the next generation of leaders who are passionate about civics.
  3. See if a Civic Time Off program makes sense for your company. Download our toolkit for ideas on how to get started.
  4. Reach out to our team! Take advantage of our resources and know that we are here to help you elevate civics.

Join the Movement

Let’s strengthen America together.

About the authors

Hilary Crow

Hilary Crow

Hilary is head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s The Civic Trust®.

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Clara Pino

Clara Pino

Clara is director of digital content and marketing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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