Survey Says Most North Dakotans Would Flunk the U.S. Citizenship Test


New citizens take the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony held at the New-York Historical Society, Sept. 18, 2017. A program by the New-York Historical Society uses art to help green card holders prepare for the naturalization test. (Devin Yalkin/The New York Times)

According to a survey commissioned by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, most North Dakotans can’t pass the citizenship test immigrants must take to gain residency in the United States.

But that’s not unusual. Almost all of the states would flunk the test, according to the data. In fact, North Dakota had the 9th highest scores in the nation, but that’s not much to brag about given how poorly just about everyone did.

“Among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Vermonters were the sole group able to pass the multiple-choice test. Even more disturbing, only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 nationally were able to demonstrate a basic understanding of American history,” a press release from the foundation states. “Nationally, only four in 10 Americans passed the exam.”

Here are the grades for the top 10, with North Dakota coming in just behind Minnesota:

The government requires a score of at least 60 percent to pass the citizenship test. So it would seem that most American citizens couldn’t become citizens if they were immigrating here from somewhere else.

Lincoln Park Strategies did the survey for the foundation, and their sample included some 41,000 Americans nationally.

Here are some of the depressing specifics they found:

The survey found only 15 percent of American adults could correctly note the year the U.S. Constitution was written and only 25 percent knew how many amendments there are to the U.S. Constitution. Further, 25 percent did not know that freedom of speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment, and 57 percent did not know that Woodrow Wilson was the commander in chief during World War I.

One would hope that North Dakota’s scores would be improving. During the 2015 legislative session Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law HB1087 which made passing this civics test a requirement to graduate from high school (more information on that from the Department of Public Instruction).

It’s nice, feel-good policy I suppose, but these numbers demonstrate a deeper problem than memorizing some basic facts about American history and our system of government.

America is one of the greatest places to live in the world. Can we stay great if most of the population doesn’t understand some basic facts about why we’re great?

Also, as we have a national debate over immigration, how hypocritical is it that most of us can’t pass the citizenship test?

By the way, if you want to test yourself, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has an online version you can try. Here’s my score: