Survey Finds The Public Lacks Knowledge Of State Government

Dec 29, 2018

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode / Flickr:Randy Von Liski

A national survey this past year showed how in the dark many people are when it comes to understanding who runs their state government and what they’re up to.

Johns Hopkins University researchers found more than one-third of those questioned were unable to name the governor of their state.    The results were worse when asked about members of the legislature. 

8 out of 10 also failed to name the most debated issue in their state. 

The researchers say lack of media coverage on state matters is part of the problem.  They also argue for better civics education in schools. 

Despite all of this, a solid majority questioned still had a favorable opinion of their state government.  The researchers chalk that up to some of those surveyed having some “state pride.”

Others have argued even if citizens are unware of legislators’ names, they understand when governments are underperforming.

 The survey also revealed:

  • Most respondents didn’t know if being a state legislator was a full-time job.
  • Nearly a third of respondents didn’t know which state officials they voted for beyond governor, lieutenant governor and members of the legislature. (Depending on the state, other elected officials might include the state attorney general, the comptroller, the treasurer, etc.)
  • Most people surveyed had no idea if the chief judge of the state’s highest court is elected or appointed.
  • More than half didn’t know if their state had a constitution.
  • About half couldn’t say if their state had a one or two-house legislature.
  • More than half didn’t know who came up with the boundaries of legislative districts.
  • About 25 percent didn’t know who ran elections.
  • More than half didn’t know if their state allowed ballot initiatives.
  • About a third didn’t know if absentee voting was an option.
  • More than half didn’t know if their state ever held special elections.
  • About 75 percent didn’t know if their state had special purpose districts.
  • About a quarter of respondents wasn’t sure if it was federal or state government that was mostly in charge of law enforcement.
  • Thirty percent didn’t know who made zoning laws.