Are You Smarter About the U.S. Than a New Immigrant?

A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll of eligible voters showed that only 39 percent of those polled could correctly name the vice president of the United States (for those of you in the 39 percent, it’s Joe Biden). I suspect that right about now, President Obama might like it if more people were totally unaware of Biden. But still, that’s a pretty sad stat.

The good news is that the poll focused on those dummies who said that they aren’t likely to vote in November. The bad news is that there are plenty of even bigger dummies out there who are quite eager to vote — and are totally convinced that they are very well informed. Like the 33 percent of Republicans who, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, believe that Obama was foreign born (he wasn’t), or the 17 percent who, despite all the kerfuffle over the Christian church Obama attended for 20 years, believe Obama is Muslim (he’s not), or the 54 percent who expressed concern that the healthcare reform bill represented a government takeover of medicine. (It isn’t. In fact, the non-partisan fact checking organization Politifact rated that talking point as the “Lie of the Year.”)

Rich people and moronic right-wing bigots like Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby say they don’t want poor people to vote because the poor just don’t know enough about the issues or don’t care enough about property rights to be trusted to cast an informed vote. But what about all those relatively rich people who passionately believe things that simply aren’t true in the real world? What is the minimum amount of factual knowledge anyone should have before casting a vote? How about simply being able to pass the test that legal immigrants to this country must pass in order to be granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote?

Below you will find 10 questions from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization civics test study tool. The real civics test is actually harder because it’s oral and not multiple choice. You need to get at least six questions correct to pass. Good luck, fellow citizens.


1. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?

A) nine (9)

B) ten (10)

C) eleven (11)

D) twelve (12)

2. How many U.S. Senators are there?

A) four hundred thirty-five (435)

B) one hundred (100)

C) fifty (50)

D) fifty-two (52)

3. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

A) one hundred (100)

B) two hundred (200)

C) four hundred thirty-five (435)

D) four hundred forty-one (441)

4. We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years?

A) eight (8)

B) four (4)

C) two (2)

D) six (6)

5. How many amendments does the Constitution have?

A) ten (10)

B) twenty-three (23)

C) twenty-one (21)

D) twenty-seven (27)

6. What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?

A) to bear arms

B) to vote

C) speech

D) trial by jury

7. When was the Constitution written?

A) 1776

B) 1787

C) 1789

D) 1790

8. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

A) Quebec

B) Haiti

C) Alaska

D) the Louisiana Territory

9. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

A) Ohio River

B) Rio Grande River

C) Colorado River

D) Mississippi River

10. There were 13 original states. Name three.

A) New York, Kentucky, and Georgia

B) Washington, Oregon, and California

C) Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina

D) Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida



1. A

2. B

3. C

4. C

5. D

6. C

7. B

8. D

9. D

10. C

  • Tony the Hun

    It never ceases to amaze me the level of vituperation that Mr. Nolan will invoke in order to attack individuals who are clearly intellectually and ethically superior.
    It is wonderful that Mr. Nolan has a soap box to spout his drivel. Only in America.
    BTW I scored 10 out of 10. When I took my citizenship test, the questions were at a much more abstract level.
    Q1. Describe the type of government at the federal level. Republic
    Q2. Name the 3 levels of government and their function.
    Federal, Sta and (City, County or Town)
    Q3. Name the branches of the federal government and their function.
    Executive – Day to Day exercise of government functions.
    Legislative- Pass Bills for approval/veto by Executive branch, override vetoes, impeach federal officers, appropriate money to run the federal government.
    Judicial Branch. Rules on the constitutionality of laws, settles suits between the states.
    But then we had 40 students to the classroom, walked to school uphill 4 miles both ways.

  • Barry Nolan

    Dear Tony,
    Good for you for getting 10 out of 10. But help me understand in plain English what you mean – do you think the birthers are to be admired? Believed? Do you think the poor should not vote as Mr. Jacoby does? What about that strikes you as ethically superior?
    Just wondering.

    Barry Nolan

  • Howard

    Mr. Nolan points to the high percentage of people who believe silly things. It’s striking that all of the silly things here are believed by folks on the right. One wonders, does Mr. Nolan think that folks on the left also believe a variety of silly things? Was it random chance that none of those were mentioned?

    In case it was random chance, 35% of Democrats polled in 2007 believed that George W Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Note that this is pretty much on par with the 33% of crazy fools on the right that subscribe to Birtherism.

    The reality – a high percentage of partisans believe ridiculous things about the opposition. This is not a liberal or conservative thing; it’s a partisan thing. The people aligned to Mr. Nolan’s preferred party aren’t necessarily better about this… their stupidity just manifests itself differently.

    Of course, we’d all be better off if idiots and the disengaged of all stripes didn’t vote (this has, interestingly enough, been argued rather rigorously in academic political science literature).

    Finally, I don’t make a habit of reading Jeff Jacoby, but I found it surprising that he would say that poor people shouldn’t vote, so I read the column in question. What an unfair and absurd characterization! I must say I find it entertaining that liberal folks so proudly claim the mantle of “nuanced thinking” when misrepresenting the arguments of those with whom they disagree so rampantly.

  • Barry Nolan

    Dear Howard,
    You are absolutely right that there are a higher percentage of liberals that hold looney views about 9-11 than Bush supporters who hold Bush responsible.

    However, to be completely fair, the number of truly dopey beliefs held by the far right – beliefs that are contradicted by science, common sense, or real world experience seem to far outweigh those held by the far left. I give you the far right’s denial of evolution, the denial of climate change, the belief that the earth is just 6,000 years old and the denial of Thomas Jefferson’s clearly stated understanding that the founding fathers intended for there to be a wall of separation between the church and the state. Mr. Jefferson was after all – in attendance when the Constitution was written.

    And I suggest you go back and read Mr. jacoby’s screed again. He begins by attacking the effort to send voter registration information to Welfare recipients – as required by law. He attacks the concept of the Motor Voter law because it makes it too easy – that is to say – it registers too many of the wrong kind of people in his opinion. He also says: “What’s truly objectionable here is the goal that supposedly justifies the whole operation: the idea that states should do all they can to make registering to vote and casting a ballot as easy as possible.” So, he clearly does not want the states to make registration and voting as easy as possible. And who does that disproportionately effect? The poor, the disabled, and minorities. The reality of being poor means that you are less likely to have a car, less likely to have child care, or have a job where you can take time off to go vote, more likely to hold more than one job so you don’t have time to go vote etc. Mr Jacoby conflates having a strong opinion with being well informed. We have quite a number of examples in our history that show that to be an idiotic thing to believe.

    Barry Nolan