Not much, apparently.

The Pew Research Center has posted the results of its latest survey of our knowledge of current events.  The results are not heartening.  On average, Americans got 42 percent of the answers right (5 of 12); college graduates did a little better (6.8 of 12—still a failing grade).  Young people did especially poorly; their average was 4 of 12.

In particular, more than half of those surveyed knew who ran the oil well that exploded in the Gulf, that the budget deficit is larger now than in the 1990s, that Republicans were the big winners on November 2nd (though fewer than half know that they’ll only control the House and fewer still can identify John Boehner as Speaker), that the U.S. has an international trade deficit, and that unemployment is pretty close to 10 percent.

Studies show that we do only slightly better—still earning a failing grade—on “civic knowledge,” dealing with the principles of American government and the basics of American history, for example.

And while I’m at it, I guess that it’s worth noting that we don’t do particularly well in surveys of our religious knowledge either.

I’m tempted to argue that with these low levels of awareness regarding the most important questions and issues of public life, it’s not clear that republican self-government is (in the currently fashionable term) sustainable.  Do we really know enough to govern ourselves?

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