February 12, 2024


WASHINGTON, D.C. — A comprehensive new study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reveals an alarming truth just three years shy of America’s 250th anniversary—the nation’s civic knowledge is badly lagging. The national survey, which examined responses from 2,000 registered voters, also shows that while Americans lack basic understanding of government, trust in business remains strong. 

The survey finds 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.  

While two thirds of Americans say they studied civics in high school, just 25% say they are “very confident” they could explain how our system of government works.  

“As we approach our semiquincentennial in 2026, this report amounts to a five-alarm fire drill for the civic health of the nation,” said Hilary Crow, head of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s The Civic Trust®. “While Americans across backgrounds value civic participation in theory, we are sorely lacking in the basic knowledge that translates values into informed, engaged citizenship.” 

Among the major red flags:  

  • Only 46% of respondents believe the U.S. is performing well on the vital need to understand our system of government—a gap of 49 percentage points from the 95% who call it important for the nation's success.  
  • One in three did not know there are three branches of government.  
  • More than half did not know the number of members in the House of Representatives.  

“Put plainly, you can't fix what you don't understand,” Crow said. “Without reversing these deficiencies in understanding how our government works, we are risking the long-term health of our civic culture and democracy itself. That’s why we’re so committed to the National Civics Bee® and other civics literacy programs."  

Workplaces seen as rare spaces of unity and civility 

The study also highlights deep wells of unity around core civic values, and an openness to businesses playing a role in supporting citizenship.  

More than 75% of adults in the U.S. view political division in the country and government as a major problem. Yet just 19% see significant political tensions at their jobs.   

Nearly half of respondents said workplaces should take the primary role in defusing divide, over government bodies.  

“As the bonds holding our civic culture together fray, places of work stand out as sanctuaries where Americans still connect across differences,” Crow said. “The data speak clearly – people welcome employers’ help in ensuring politics don't infect these essential spaces.” 

Specifically, the survey reveals:  

  • More than 80% of respondents hold positive views of large and small businesses alike. 
  • 82% agree businesses can play an “important role” in bringing people together.  
  • 93% would react positively if companies publicly tried “improving our country.”  

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. Only 38% of Americans believe children today are prepared to fulfill their roles as informed, active citizens. Business leaders must partner with educators in steering a new generation toward constructive civic participation.  

“With our social fabric strained, the business community is being called upon to be a thread that can knit us back together,” Crow concluded.  

About the Survey 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation commissioned 3W Insights, a research-driven strategic consultancy, to measure attitudes related to civics ahead of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. The nationwide survey included a representative sample of 2,000 registered voters, fielded Oct. 25 – Nov. 1, 2023.

About The Civic Trust®

The Civic Trust® is a nonpartisan educational initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation focused on elevating civics as a national priority with programs that advance and promote civic knowledge in schools, workplaces, and communities.