Happy Constitution Day (Explanation Below)

220px-Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_StatesToday, I have the honor of being the Constitution Day Speaker for the Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. A recent poll in Oklahoma City, however, suggests that before we celebrate the Constitution, we may have to explain what it is. This includes gaps in such basis knowledge as “who was the first president of the United States?” Only 23 percent could name George Washington.

In a survey commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in observance of Constitution Day Oklahoma students showed an astonishing lack of knowledge about their government — flunking the basic questions needed to become a citizen of the United States.

The students were given 10 questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services item bank. In order to become a citizen, you must answer six questions correctly in order to become citizens.

About 92 percent of immigrants who take the citizenship test pass on their first try, but only about 3 percent of the students would have passed. Here is the questions and the percentage of correct answers:

What is the supreme law of the land? 28 percent correct.

What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? 26 percent correct.

What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress? 27 percent correct.

How many justices are there on the Supreme Court? 10 percent correct.

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? 14 percent correct.

What ocean is on the east coast of the United States? 61 percent correct.

What are the two major political parities in the United States? 43 percent correct.

We elect a U.S. senator for how many years? 11 percent correct.

225px-Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonWho was the first President of the United States? 23 percent correct.

Who is in charge of the executive branch? 29 percent correct.

Similar results have been found in other cities.

For the full story, click here.

For the report, click here.

31 thoughts on “Happy Constitution Day (Explanation Below)”

  1. Wow – I assumed that there was a pretty good overlap between this site’s readers and readers of fivethirtyeight.com

    It turns out the “polling firm” that produced the numbers you cite is raising some serious eyebrows about whether or not it’s actually polling anybody or not to produce those “results”. The firm refuses to release any cross-tabs from their polls, answer several very important (and fairly standard) questions about their methodology, and appears to operate out of one very small space in rural Georgia, but claims to conduct many good sized state and national level polls each year. There’s no actual proof of wrong doing, but they seem more and more sketchy the more people look at them. (Not that the results cited above are totally out of whack with our sense of reality, sadly…)

    Check out Nate Silver’s ongoing analysis at fivethirtyeight.com

  2. Actually, the first President of the United States was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut. The United States first came into being after the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the States. Mr. Huntington was the first president of the Continental Congress after ratification so he was considered first President of the United States.

  3. GWLSM wrote: “and of course the extra credit question is: can you find your state/town on a map?”

    Actually, that would be a question to include to perhaps keep the Virginia Tax Commissioner from scoring a big fat goose egg on the quiz.

    Here is another question:

    Name two states that in 2006 eliminated the MFS requirement for nonresidents when only one spouse had income from their state.

    Here is what the Virginia Tax Commissioner wrote in a 2008 letter to me. I have redacted the parts that give away the answers to the questions.

    “I understand that you have had several conversations with a member of my staff concerning Virginia’s policy on nonresident income tax returns and its application to your situation. You and your wife reside in Maryland and your wife has income from Virginia sources while you do not. Your wife files a nonresident Virginia income tax return and you object to Virginia’s policy prohibiting you from being included in a joint nonresident return with your wife. Under Va. Code § 58.1-326 a resident may elect to file a joint return with a nonresident spouse (if the spouse agrees to be taxed as a resident), but a similar election is not allowed when both spouses are nonresidents. You assert that this different treatment of residents and nonresidents violates the … (redacted) …Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has considered the application of the … (redacted) …Clause to state income taxes. … (redacted) …. In … (redacted) … the Court noted that a state may defend its position by demonstrating that (i) there is a substantial reason for the difference in treatment; and (ii) the discrimination practiced against nonresidents bears a substantial relationship to the state’s objective.

    Virginia taxes individuals on two alternative theories: residence and source of income. A resident is taxed on all income wherever earned. A nonresident is taxed only on income from Virginia sources. The joint return filing election in Va. Code § 58.1-326 is granted only to residents and only if the nonresident spouse consents to being taxed as a resident, since both spouses in a joint return must be taxed in the same manner.

    The General Assembly has not explained its reason for not granting a similar filing election to nonresidents, but a rationale can be found in divorce law. A divorce can be granted when only one spouse resides in Virginia because the residence of one spouse confers jurisdiction over the marriage. In the field of taxation, residence confers jurisdiction to tax all income of the resident spouse and a justification for permitting the married couple to be treated as one taxpayer in a joint income tax return even though we have no jurisdiction to impose a tax on the nonresident spouse with no income from Virginia sources. No such justification exists when neither taxpayer is a resident of Virginia. Taxation is predicated upon income from Virginia sources, and only one nonresident spouse is subject to tax.

    I hope this information will be beneficial. Please contact John Josephs, Senior Lead Tax Policy Analyst at (804) 371-2295 or at john.josephs@tax.virginia.gov, if you need more information regarding this issue.”

    Please note:

    Va. Code § 58.1-326 only applies to the situation where one spouse is a resident of Virginia and the other is a nonresident.

    The Supreme Court barred discriminating against nonresidents in the(redacted)case cited by the Virginia Tax Commissioner.

    The General Assembly has not explained its reason for not granting a similar filing election to nonresidents because there is nothing to explain. Va. Code § 58.1-xxx allows for filing a MFJ return when the taxpayers are either both residents or both nonresidents provided they filed as MFJ federal return.

  4. George,

    I agree with you! Most of our politicans and media are motivated by low cunning and really don’t have a big picture (unless it’s on their LED TV)! These are the useful idiots but still dangerous. The few that know how to manipulate the useful idiots are the most dangerous, but they couldn’t do it without their trusted idiots!!!

  5. Snark* considering how thoroughly the Constitution has been shredded, I’m thinking maybe the class will be short; what’s left to teach about? *Snark

    As I was reading about your role as speaker for the Constitution I flashed on Fahrenheit 451 and an the living books- the people that memorized a book in defiance of the government prohibition of them as enemies of the state. You are a “Granger” (the leader of the group Montag the Fireman stumbles into) shepherding converts and potential converts in the ultimate subversion, banned knowledge.

    Go forth Professor and find a young mind unsullied by any knowledge of the Great Document and inoculate her/him with the subversive desire to know more about it, to memorize and live it’s Commandments 🙂

    Sheriff says using military weapon on crowds isn’t controversial but he has decided not to use it in crowd control mode. I’d like to think that’s motivated by a love of the 1st Amendment but it’s probably a nod to the probability of subsequent lawsuits.


  6. and of course the extra credit question is: can you find your state/town on a map?

  7. For nearly sixty years married nonresident taxpayers have been required to file as married filing separately as opposed to married filing jointly on a Virginia Nonresident Income Tax Return if only one spouse had Virginia source income. Virginia currently appears to be unique with respect to this requirement.

    In 2008, compared to MFJ, the MFS requirement reduced the standard deduction from $6000 to $3000 and eliminated a $930 exemption (prior to application of the allocation percentage) unless the spouse without Virginia source income had no income from any source in which case an exemption was allowed for the spouse.

    Now for the quiz.

    Which section of the Virginia Code does Virginia’s Department of Taxation violate by mandating the MFS requirement when both spouses are nonresidents?

    Which clause of the United States Constitution does Virginia’s Department of Taxation violate by requiring nonresidents with Virginia source income to file as married filing separately if their spouse had no Virginia source income?

    Which clause of the United States Constitution requires a married filing separately option if the spouse of a nonresident required to file a Virginia Nonresident Income Tax Return has no Virginia source income?

  8. Jill says,…”Keeping the people ignorant is part of the media’s job and they do it well. Certainly, few of our politicians want and informed, free people making decisions in our elections.”


    I agree. I just don’t believe that 95% of the media and political establishment who work to keep the people ignorant with surface reporting and soundbite platitudes, know what they are even doing. They are just pursuing their own personal goals under the guise of institutional normalcy. They just want more money, more power, a bigger news market, a U.S. Senate seat, etc…

    The other 5% (in truth, it may be much less than that) are a different story. The personal interest of this 5% are DIRECTLY vested in keeping the populace a frightened, pay-check-to-paycheck, ignorant mass.

    Unfortunately, at the upper tiers, media, politics and business become one undistinguished entity that knows no national boundaries, and holds no loyalty other than to that of the unbridled pursuit of money and power. Of course, this is all done at the expense of the dispensable herds.

    PS. Professor, I hope you enjoyed your talk!

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