Americans Don’t Know The Difference Between James Madison And Karl Marx

A new poll commissioned by the Bill of Rights Institute has another round of depressing results about the general level of ignorance in the American populace:

Sadly, a new national poll reveals that 42 percent of Americans wrongly attribute Marx’s famous communist slogan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” to one of the country’s Founding documents. Nearly one in five Americans believe this phrase can be found in the Bill of Rights, of all places. You can take some solace in knowing that among young adults, only six percent made this mistake, though 30 percent of them believe Marx’s statement can be found in either the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution.


The First Amendment fares particularly poorly; 55 percent of Americans don’t recognize that education is not a First Amendment right, while nearly 1 in 5 mistakenly excludes from the First Amendment one of the five rights it actually does guarantee.

The lonely Tenth Amendment, meanwhile, is recognized by only 20 percent of Americans as the amendment that reserves powers to the states and the people.

I’d sigh, but that would require me to be surprised.

FILED UNDER: Federalist Papers, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CGHill says:

    “The lonely Tenth Amendment, meanwhile, is recognized by only 20 percent of Americans as the amendment that reserves powers to the states and the people.”

    And by only 0.020 percent of the federal government. If that much.

  2. Kimberly Haney says:

    This is a “sad, but true” situation. Regarding the young people: It amazes me the amount of young people I see here in Atlanta Proper proudly wearing Che T-shirts. I actually stopped one young lady wearing such a shirt on the street and asked her if she was a Marxist and she said “absolutely not”. I didn’t sigh either. I just told her that she should rethink her fashion choices and carried on. I can guarantee that she had no idea of the 2000+ people he killed as a Marxist Guerilla in the name of “revolution”. Turns out, she wasn’t even a US Citizen, but enrolled at GA State. *facepalm*

  3. John P says:

    I’m currently reading Prof. Levy’s Origins of the Bill of Rights. Honestly it should be required reading for every single American (as should many other documents) and a re-read should be required for anyone who wants to “get back to the ideals of our founding fathers and the Constitution.”

    I immediately stop listening to whoever spouts that garbage. As if the guys a the Constitutional Convention were all of the same mind and spirit and knocked out the document in a few days – mostly to make sure their printing was neat mind you – then handed it down to a grateful public like Charlton Heston coming down from the Mount.

    I had a conversation with one such person a year or so ago who wanted to “get back to the original amendments in the Bill of Rights” at which time I asked him which of the post-1787 amendments he disagreed with and why. Stupid women voters.

  4. This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Bill of Rights Institute from December 1‐3, 2010 among 2,159 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    Meaningless survey is meaningless.

  5. John P says:

    @SD – 2,159 is not an insignificant sample size regardless of the methodology. We aren’t citing papers or approving pharmaceuticals. There is bound to be a margin of error however that margin can’t be large enough to negate the point Doug makes.

  6. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Considering that most of the respondents, if not all of them, are products of government run schools, why would anyone be surprised?

  7. John P says:

    @ Patrick – do private/home schooled children fare better?

  8. The size of the sample isn’t relative if it’s not a representative sample. Also, they don’t publish any of the actual questions they asked, so it’s impossible to judge how much of this is due to actual ignorance or poor poll design.

    This is just a non-profit group trying to make a big news story to justify the government giving them more money.

  9. LeonardGump says:

    @ John P. Yes, home schooled kids do much better than public schooled kids. Much better teachers at home than in the P.S. down the road (a long bus ride from home).

  10. John P says:

    @ Leonard – we actually home school and I rank generic public school teacher lower than carnie on my scale of intellectual capacity (because I deal with both on a regular basis – teachers can neither add nor spell. Carnies may not be literate but I guarantee you they aren’t losing money by not being able to add and subtract on the spot).

    However my point was that there really isn’t any oversight nor testing to prove that public school education is any better or worse than home school education. Even your point is purely anecdotal. In both cases, if the kids have good and caring parents they will succeed…if they don’t, they won’t.

    @ SD, point taken. However I would have to believe that the public at large is still fairly ignorant of the issues raised here. This poll is actually a retread of a better poll published earlier this year. I was able to go to that website and review the data and take the test. The results were similar.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    On a related side note the right to an education is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U. S. is a signatory, and, indeed, under it primary education is compulsory.

  12. TG Chicago says:

    @John P — It’s ignorant of you to paint all public school teachers with one brush. There are indeed teachers who are sadly lacking in intellectual capacity, but there are others who are as smart as it gets. It’s a wide and varied population that you can’t box in as neatly as you have attempted to do.

    That said, most of us can agree that we can and should do much better in educating America’s children.

  13. John P says:

    @ TG – the phrase “generic” was key to preface my statement. My entire family, with the exception of myself, were teachers and public school admin for all or some of their lives.

    Too many of my phone calls with teachers go something like this – “yeah, I’d like to order 200 widgets at $0.50 a piece.”

    Me, “ok”

    Teacher, “how much is that?”

    Or how about this gem – teacher faxes in a purchase order that simply reads “blankets”. When I call to inform him that we require a complete purchase order, including product costs, shipping costs, product information, total amount, purchase order number and signatures approving the purchase he mentions that all of that is not required (even though it is MY policy not his) because his PO covers everything.

    “Blankets?” I say.

    “Yes, covers everything”, he says.

    And on and on it goes. I’ve been doing this now for 11 years and teachers rank under church secretaries in functional intelligence…as a general rule of course.

  14. TG Chicago says:

    1. Relating to or descriptive of an entire group or class

    So you just called your entire family stupid. Just in time for the holidays!

    Okay, I guess you meant “average” or something. I still think that’s unfair — my experience is that there’s a wide variety. I’ve definitely experienced shocking stupidity from teachers, but I’ve also experienced great intelligence.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    “That said, most of us can agree that we can and should do much better in educating America’s children.”

    At the same time, plenty of parents can and should do a much better job of raising their children…

  16. Richard Bond says:

    I find it disgusting that these Schools do not teach the Children about their own country. I am an older American and can remember that we could not graduate High School without having passed US Government Class, which consisted of the study of the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and the Federalist Papers that were used to answer questions of the states on the US Constitution. By the way I also know the truth about the Che’s demise, and it was not pretty or like the movie’s would have it portrayed, he was a despicable killer and met his end in a despicable way.