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7/2: Don’t Know Much About History?


7/2: Don’t Know Much About History?

There’s good news for American education.  About three-quarters of residents — 74% — know the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776.  The bad news for the academic system — 26% do not.  This 26% includes one-fifth who are unsure and 6% who thought the U.S. separated from another nation.  That begs the question, “From where do the latter think the U.S. achieved its independence?”  Among the countries mentioned are France, China, Japan, Mexico, and Spain.



Table: Country from Which U.S. Declared Independence

Marist Poll Methodology

Check out The Marist Poll’s mention on Countdown with Keith Olbermann

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  1. Ralph

    July 4, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    Now we are independent from China! No more Chinese war bonds!

  2. Ralph

    July 4, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    Thanks to Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, the U.S. declared its independence from the aliens on July 4th, 1996. What more do you want to know?

  3. adam

    July 4, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    That’s just pathetic

  4. Tom

    July 4, 2010 at 5:30 PM

    I would be interested in more insight into the demographics of the 26%. There have been no shortage of people here assuming that the 26% are representative of people that disagree with them. (By the way it’s a statistical certainty that even if all of the 26% were eligible to vote most of them did not.) I think it would be instructive, for example, to know the break down by public/private/home school. I would suggest that to the extent the respondents were taught in private schools or home schooled the information does not reflect anything about any level of Government (except that we have the freedom to make bad education decisions for our children). To the extent that the respondents were educated in the American public schools, I would suggest that every single public school in the country has this fact in their curriculum, so if the students didn’t learn or retain that fact it that is a failure of the schools to meet their goals. Failure to meet those goals could result from a lot of things but I can’t think of one possible reason that can’t be classified as “lack of resources.” So I would focus on people that think vouchers help schools, or that buying bombs is more important than hiring teachers, or that there’s no harm in taking time out of the curriculum to teach “creation science” in addition to biology should consider the practical ramifications of their abstract political philosophy.

  5. Dreww

    July 4, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    I can’t believe how ridiculous everyones comments are on the subject. Because no one has really said anything at all, just calling out each others verbal flubs.

    Stats are dumb and you guys are all wasting your time

  6. Buck Turgidson

    July 4, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    I’d like to know what the actual question was and what options were given in what order. It makes ALL the difference! But I still can’t laugh hard enough that the highest fraction of people who gave the wrong or uncertain (also wrong) answer are in the South, by a wide margin. Expect the full results to show up on Fox News any second now–but not the bit about the South.

  7. ABVision

    July 4, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    Actually studies show that liberals ARE more intelligent than conservatives. So, chances are Obama supporters would win out!

    SEE LINK,8599,1968042,00.html

  8. Croz

    July 4, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    The poll is not perfect but it does speak to some things.

    Why did 40% of people age 18-29 not know this?
    Why do 33% of women not know this?
    Why do people with less income score worse than people with more?
    Why do non white people score worse than those that are white?

    What can we do as a nation to correct these questions and others?

    I do think history matters. If we don’t learn we are doomed to repeat. I wonder how many people would correctly answer the question “who was the united states major ally in the war for independance from great britan?”

  9. boatboy_srq

    July 4, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Actually there is some reason for the confusion, at least in the West. Both California and Texas gained their independence from Mexico, and became independent republics before joining the United States, one a territory won and ceded to the US in the Mexican-American War and the other a recent (peaceful) addition to the US whose annexation sparked that conflict. It doesn’t excuse not knowing from which nation the original 13 colonies declared independence, but it would explain the confusion for any who read or heard the question as “from what country did WE win our independence,” as residents of those states would be aware of their own state’s history as much as that of the US itself.

  10. A Native American

    July 4, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    None of you seem to know anything about Native Americans.

    We are neither grossly uneducated, nor nonexistent. Bill R. you sound like some kind of American Zionist— you are one scary white dude. Newsflash: manifest destiny is no longer entitled by the law.

    And for the record, there are some reservations that are VERY isolated, where there are older folks who still don’t speak English (often as a matter of Pride in their assorted traditional languages), but even those reservations have schools, and generally they are really thinning out, as people leave them for other places that are not so completely founded upon their marginalization.

    Sorry to tell you folks, we walk among you. I know. It’s a real downer.

    And to bring up yet another point, can anyone tell me why it’s even important to know this particular fact about the United States, other than the fact that most people do? What is its essential relevance to anything? Who really cares? What could this piece of information possibly do for you, other than get you through the “complete moron” level of a quiz show.

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  12. Daniel Cecil

    July 4, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    It’s simply amazing that you can’t present any fact of any kind in this country without the Republicans and Democrats turning it into fodder for yet another of their irrelevant little slapfights.

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  14. FredD

    July 4, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    Don’t put too much stock in polls like this one. It’s possible that it shows exactly what it claims, but more likely than not there’s another explanation. About five years ago I saw a poll – that was reproduced in a textbook on US government – that said about 25% of college-age Americans could not locate the US on a globe. It wasn’t until a few months later that I looked into the matter in more detail and found that people from other countries had comparable and equally appalling rates. Now you could assume from that study and this one and perhaps South Park’s 9/11-conspiracy conspiracy episode that “one fourth of America is retarded.” Or you could remain skeptical of polls and learn a bit more before jumping to conclusions.

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  16. Pingback: America Declared its Independence from _______. « Pachyderms and Jackasses

  17. John H

    July 3, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    I would have answered “England” Would that have been marked “wrong”? And what if someone answered “UK”? Did the answer need to be “Great Britain” to be considered correct?

  18. fred

    July 3, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    yeah dude. was kidding. kinda got a chuckle from the one about the “eurocentric education”. and i agree with you. on all of what you said. and i dont think i am a liberal. but some days i wonder. but i think it is “liberals” more than the converse, that tend to apply labels like that. and those labels i think separate us, more than they unify us.

  19. Marc

    July 3, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    Back in the late 1980s roughly only 66% of all Seniors graduating from US High Schools could name the Capital of the United States of America. This 26% is well within that error.

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  21. Ezra

    July 3, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    @Phil No, the name “United Kingdom of Great Britain” is sometimes applied retroactively, but the Acts of Union provided that “the two kingdoms of Scotland and England shall, . . . for ever after, be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain.”

    I realize some people like to flaunt the fact that the know the difference between “England,” “Great Britain,” and “the United Kingdom,” but there’s a time and a place. And the time in question is before 1800.

  22. Sperby Piner

    July 3, 2010 at 5:50 PM

    What is really alarming is that these people vote and procreate.

  23. Gregory Wahl

    July 3, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    Most of the above answers miss an obvious point: The answer to the question — i.e., the country from which we declared independence — can be found in . . . . (drum roll) . . . . . . the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE! Even a cursory reading of this one-page document will quickly reveal that it is aimed at the King of Great Britain.

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  25. Texan99

    July 3, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    What I think is funnier than the ignorance of 26% of the respondents is the eagerness of commenters here to explain it away, as if some answer other than “England” showed a heightened nuance rather than pure-D dumbness. You know, what if they got all wrapped up in the concept of the Louisiana Purchase or something, because their grasp of history was so deep, broad, sophisticated, and sensitive? That’s the ticket, ace. Keep #^*&ing that chicken.

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  27. JD

    July 3, 2010 at 4:47 PM


    You’re argument about the “Eurocentric” view of the world is completely off base. If somebody is living in the modern day united states, they have no excuse to not know the answer to this simple question.

    The whole “I’m an indian and I’m offended that the US is an independent country” doesn’t hold water. It’s been a country (one of the worlds most influential) for well over 200 years. Indians in our country have far more exposure to the US government that most other citizens.

    It’s not like we have a large aboriginal population living in isolation in distant jungles or anything.

    You know as well as I do that most of those who didn’t know were just ignorant ghetto queens who dropped out of 6th grade.

  28. Jim

    July 3, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    grand said: “Or it could be that 26% of respondents have a non-Euro-centric view of history. For instance, how does a Native American interpret the concept of US independence? Their people were hear (sic) first, and their lands were taken away from them. They might interpret the question very differently, and may even find the suggestion of US ‘independence’ offensive.”

    Well, let’s look at this. The UNITED STATES were not the Native Americans. People weren’t “hear” first but rather here first.

    grand also said: “Consider also that many parts of the US were formerly colonies of other nations, in particular, the French and Spanish, and rather than ‘winning their independence’ they were purchased or won in other wars (see for instance: The Louisiana Territory, Texas, Alaska).”

    Well, it is true those places were NOT part of the new UNITED STATES until AFTER the revolution. But they HAVE been part of the UNITED STATES for a very long time. Not many people are alive today when only a few of these were not. So I really think your “arguments” are full of steaming male bovine refuse.

  29. George

    July 3, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    The scary point for me is if those 26% vote?

  30. North Star

    July 3, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Likely the ones who think the colonies separated from either China, France etc. were Democrats.

  31. Moira

    July 3, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    @grand… Having a “non-Eurocentric view” is an irrelevant rationalization for people in this country to not know who the 13 American colonies revolted against. In fact, it doesn’t require a “Eurocentric view” at all since it involved North America. By the way, Native Americans were actively involved during the Revolutionary War – on BOTH sides. And also, it’s HERE, not “hear,’ genius…

  32. J

    July 3, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Justyn, if you didn’t learn this in school, then your school might be an example of what is wrong with America’s education system. I don’t consider any of the schools I went to to be particularly great, but I definitely learned that in elementary, middle and high school history. But you raise a point that even if a person didn’t learn it in school, you don’t have to pay THAT much attention to culture to know the answer.

    @1 Are you kidding?

  33. steelman

    July 3, 2010 at 2:40 PM

    26%? I didn’t know Pelosi had that many relatives.

  34. Danzo

    July 3, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    Yes, between the two errors by Marist Poll:
    1. England
    2. Begs the Question

    Marist Poll certainly gets an F. Or maybe King George III was King of Great Britain?


  35. Jason

    July 3, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    ‘The phrase [begs the question] means to base an answer on an assumption that itself is unproven.”

    Don’t be overly prideful of your own education, otherwise you make a fool of yourself by correcting others with errors of your own.

    Begging the question means assuming as a premise the conclusion of your argument.

  36. Timothy

    July 3, 2010 at 2:04 PM


    I’d bet my savings account that 95% plus of Tea Party members know who we declared independence from. I also bet that a majority of them would know basic economic principles. I’d also bet that the Tea Party would poll higher on the differences between Austrian and Keynesian economics than the general public.

  37. Jim

    July 3, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Are you kidding me? Please tell me you’re joking. My daughter has covered basic American history a couple of times now and she’s just in 5th grade. They covered it at least in 4th and 5th grade. Maybe even 3rd (I don’t remember).

  38. fred

    July 3, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    robert lynch: why would indians care about our indepedence. i think they are more concerend with their independence from great brit in 1947 (or 1950 depending on how you slice it). or did you mean “native americans”? i think you need some sensitivity training……/sarc

  39. rebecca

    July 3, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    My six year old daughter asked, “do these people vote, Mommy?”

  40. fred

    July 3, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    democratic voters have to come from somwhere. that 26% is their base. if we educated enough people, there would be no need for the dem party. come on. let them have something.

  41. Liz

    July 3, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    I’m finding most of the comments very disgusting, either saying it really doesn’t matter or somehow this was a trick question. Let’s be REALLY clear: This is NOT a trick question, even the dumbest American with the lowest IQ should be able to answer it and it is a VERY big deal. People who are this ignorant cannot remain free. Stupidity and freedom don’t mix. Do you think these lazy, ignorant people know what their constitutional rights are? Do you think they have any idea what their government can or can not do to them? Liberals who run the public schools have been dumbing down our children for decades. Why? Stupid people are easily led by government tyrants and government is the liberals’ god.

  42. kathryn hoppiing

    July 3, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Polls need to be taken with a big grain of salt. Unless you know the demographics, the language used, etc. we should never accept poll answers as some kind of Cassandra utterance. That said, when I was substitute-teaching for k-8, i found that the one subject that i could drop from the curriculum was History. Why? Because it was not a tested subject in the “no child left behind”-mandated tests. If i were running out of time, then history was the first casualty.

  43. JDW

    July 3, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Let the libs say what they want about all the stupid yokels. I guarantee the yokels at least know of our won independence from the English. The liberal base, however? You know, the urban folk? Walk down the streets of any major inner city in America and ask them who we declared and won independence from. If you don’t get insulted, threatened, robbed, stabbed or handed a rumpled Obama ’08 bumper sticker, they probably wouldn’t know they answer. 26% is optimistic. But yes, they still get to vote. And yes, we know who they will vote for every single time.

  44. malclave

    July 3, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    “In other news, 26% of people polled support the Tea Party.”

    And in still more news, 45% of people polled support Barry Obama. There is a theory, though, that many of these people found the question so absurd that they intentionally gave an incorrect answer. Otherwise, there’s really no explanation for responses so incongruous with reality.

  45. JKD

    July 3, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    And 113% of the 26% was registered by ACORN to vote for Obama.

  46. Chamomile

    July 3, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    Carol, you are purposefully and intentionally misinformed about the Tea Party from the pro-liberal media (and, most likely, your own political ideology).

    The Tea Party members give out booklets of the Constitution to the crowds to read and also advocate the reading of the Federalist Papers as primary sources.

    Tea Party members are better informed than most Americans regarding our country’s founding as they are proponents of returning to our Constitutionally limited federal government.

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  49. Ryan Anthony

    July 3, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    @grand . . . Robert’s already said most of what I had to say – and very well, too – so I’ll just fire off two things:

    1. The I-D-10-T error is the only kind of “technical error” I know that would preclude answering a straightforward question which doesn’t have more than one answer.

    2. The Louisiana Purchase, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and such and such were made AFTER the US won its independence. Not before. You’re confusing the creation of a whole new country for the addition of states to a particular country, and worse yet making excuses for people to do so.

    Your reasoning is off-the-charts, amazingly, without a doubt pathetic.

    Let me guess, you were educated in a public school with far-left faculty. Am I right?

  50. Apostle of Q'in

    July 3, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    Actually, I would argue that “native Americans” are all people born in the Americas, and in this context all US citizens born in the US. The American Indians are hardly “native”. They also immigrated at once point and there from three directions. Asia (via Alaska), South Pacific and, that’s the big bummer, Europe. Then they all mixed, and some time later the Europeans came again.

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