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March 17, 2016

New poll shows majority of Americans don't know the Senate's role in confirming a Supreme Court Justice

National poll results show knowledge about the U.S. Senate is incredibly low, but Americans remain optimistic about the future of our government

BOSTON – Today the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate released the results of a national poll gauging Americans’ knowledge about the United States Senate and its role in confirming a Supreme Court Justice, and their view on government and civic engagement. The results show that most Americans lack basic knowledge about the U.S. Senate, but are optimistic about the future of government.

“It’s alarming that our poll finds that more than half of the country doesn’t know the very important role the Senate plays in selecting our U.S. Supreme Court justices,” said Jean MacCormack, President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “Since opening last March thousands of individuals have visited the Institute to learn about the important role of the U.S. Senate in our government through our state-of-the-art interactive experience. This poll shows that our mission to educate our visitors about the Senate and to encourage civic engagement is as important as ever, and we are excited to be launching into our second year open with much work left to do.”

The results show that most Americans lack knowledge about the U.S. Senate with less than half (46%) that know that each state has two Senators. About one-third (35%) are able to name one of their two Senators and just 16% able to name both Senators. Only 36% of Americans polled can explain that the Senate confirms a new Supreme Court Justice.

The results also found that few Americans are reaching out to Congress. Four out of five Americans (82%) have not contacted their representative in Washington, and only half think reaching out would make a difference (major or minor).

But despite limited knowledge about the Senate, optimism about the future of government remains, and about one-quarter (27%) of Americans expect to be more engaged in their communities in the coming year. Four out of five Americans agree that “Americans can create social and political change,” and 85% of Americans agree that “Educating youth about our government leads to a better-functioning democracy.”

The poll also shows that Americans are divided over the Senate’s ability to find places of agreement, with just about 45% that believe that “Senators are able to find places for agreement and get things done across party lines.” Americans are similarly divided on whether their priorities are being addressed by 2016 presidential candidates, with just about half of Americans (49%) that believe that they are.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute opened in Boston last March with a mission of educating the public about the important role of the U.S. Senate in our government, encouraging participatory democracy, and inspiring the next generation of citizens to engage in the civic life of their communities.

The study was conducted by Beck Research LLC via telephone by SSRS, an independent research company. Interviews were conducted from February 24 – 28, 2016 among a sample of 1,025 adults. View the full results here.

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