Most Eligible Voters Would Fail U.S. Immigration Civics Test, Survey Finds

Voters line up to cast their ballots in the Senate run-off election, at a polling station in Marietta, Ga. January 5, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Most U.S. eligible voters fail a civics questionnaire simulating the mandatory test for U.S. citizenship taken by migrants who apply for naturalization.

Only 42 percent of respondents received a passing score on the survey, with those claiming to be independent of party affiliation making up the majority. Republicans, 44 percent of whom passed the test, slightly outperformed Democrats, only 35 percent of whom passed.

The survey, comprising 20 questions, was derived from the study guide of 128 questions published by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommended for prospective citizens. While the real citizenship test is administered verbally, requiring spoken responses, the survey was administered virtually in multiple-choice format with no time limit. The real test has ten questions, with six correct answers (60 percent) needed to pass. The model survey asks 20 questions, with 12 correct answers (also 60 percent) needed to pass.

Cesar Melgoza, the survey’s creator and founder of Moxy, a new platform seeking to encourage positive civic engagement, said in an interview with National Review that his version should be theoretically easier than the official Civics test, as it offers ten more chances to achieve a passing score, no time constraints, the ability to consult external materials (although expressly discouraged to protect the integrity of the results), and no pressure or intimidation typical of an oral exam.

Despite the flexibility of the Cesar’s test, however, most respondents failed it, demonstrating that many Americans, if they were to apply today, would probably not qualify to become U.S. citizens.

The survey’s sample size, which included 1,033 participants, accounted for geographical diversity but did not control for age, as it was open to all eligible voters 18 years of age or older.

Cesar said that the fact that independents outperformed both Republicans and Democrats suggests an interesting phenomenon. He interpreted the results as showing that political moderates are more likely to have an individualist mentality that leads them to do independent research and “do their own homework” on which candidate deserves their vote.

Cesar also stated that the survey’s outcome is a reason to be concerned with our country’s prioritization of civics education, or lack thereof. Most Americans are expected to have a baseline knowledge of civics and the way the U.S. government operates, but Cesar’s study indicates that immigrants may be better informed in these areas than native citizens.

The issue of American civic education has been hotly debated in recent months thanks to the introduction of critical race theory (CRT) into American classrooms. Republican lawmaker Steve Toth spearheaded a bill in Texas, which was signed into law Wednesday, to curtail CRT indoctrination in public school curricula, including by banning teaching of the infamous “1619 Project” published by The New York Times.

In an interview with National Review, Toth said that American civics illiteracy became an apparent issue to him when he volunteered to teach the subject to immigrants studying for their citizenship exam. The vast majority passed on their first attempt, Toth confirmed, but he said he was frustrated, knowing that most American students couldn’t pass that same exam.

“It’s completely a subject area that is neglected. Some of us took it in junior high but never came back to it. And then we’re expected to vote responsibly? The messaging during election season is “vote” but you don’t hear ‘vote smart’,” Cesar remarked.

This is a call to action. A lot of people distrust their government, but what do they know about the country’s laws?,” he added.

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