In Ohio’s special election for the 12th congressional district last month, Republican Troy Balderson defeated Democrat Danny 0’Connor by 1,680 votes, or a margin of less than 1 percent.
In the 1990 Ohio race for State Attorney General, Democrat Lee Fisher defeated Republican Paul Pfeiffer by 1,234 votes – or a margin of just .03 percent -- after six official recounts.
And who can forget the hotly contested presidential election of 2000, when Republican George W. Bush’s victory over Democrat Al Gore came down to the voters in just one state – Florida. After several recounts and a month-long legal battle, Bush won the state by just 537 votes, or a margin of .009 percent.
L to R Katherine Power Morelock, presenter David Clark, Michelle Kozlowski“My vote makes no difference” is just one excuse that Americans use not to go to the polls. In 2011, the Pew Research Center found that 7 out of 10 Americans believe that politicians don't care what average Americans think and, once elected, don’t represent their interests. Studies show, too, that negative media coverage of the government and negative political attack ads also discourage voter participation.
No wonder then that, compared to other democratic countries, America’s voter turnout for most elections is disappointing.
Little over half of the voting age population (55.7 percent) cast their ballot in the 2016 presidential election, ranking the U.S. 25th in the world in voter turnout. That puts us behind countries like Mexico (15th), Slovakia (23rd) and Estonia (25th), according to the Pew Research Center.
Even worse, most Americans don’t know the basic workings of their government or the key provisions of their Constitution.
How about you? Take our three and 1/2 minute quiz on basic civic knowledge here with our self-assessment survey.
In 2016, only a quarter of all Americans (26 percent) could name all three branches of the government – executive, legislative and judicial – down from 31 percent in 2011, according to a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. And in the same survey, more than a third of Americans (37 percent) couldn’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly.
The Ohio State Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the Ohio State Bar Association, was concerned enough about such findings to launch “Civics Essential,” a three-year project aimed at educating Ohio’s adults about their government and empowering them to take action. This article, and the accompanying self-assessment survey are part of the project.
Citizens who lack fundamental civic knowledge can’t “really understand what’s going on in our government,” said Carol Seubert Marx, president of the foundation board. Ultimately, she said, the foundation hopes that greater civic knowledge will lead to greater citizen involvement across Ohio. “If you really want to have an effect (on your community), you have to know how government works.”
Feel you’re up to speed on your civic knowledge? Then prove it. Test yourself using our self-assessment tool.
This self-assessment Civics Essential survey is made possible with a Renewing Democracy grant from the Solutions Journalism Network that encourages reporting about how people and institutions are attempting to reinvigorate democracy in communities across the country.
Support for Ohio Civics Essential is provided by a strategic grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation to improve civics knowledge of Ohio adults.
The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.