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April 3, 2017

Majority of Americans have worked to influence elected leaders in recent months according to new poll

National poll results show knowledge about the U.S. Senate remains low, but Americans remain optimistic about the impact of civic engagement and civic education

BOSTON – On Friday, to mark its second anniversary, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate released the results of its second annual national poll gauging Americans’ knowledge about the United States Senate, and their views on government and civic engagement. The results show that Americans’ knowledge about the U.S. Senate continues to be lacking, but Americans are taking civic action to influence the government, and are optimistic about the power of civic education.

“We are pleased to see in the new Institute poll that a significant amount of Americans have stood up, moved by their desire to create change, and taken civic action,” said Jean MacCormack, President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “Yet we are concerned about Americans’ lack of knowledge about the U.S. Senate and how our government works. As we enter our third year open to the public, we feel that our mission to educate and inspire the next generation of engaged leaders is as important as ever.”

The results show that half of Americans (51%) polled recently took action to influence government. This show of civic action is spread across a wide range of possible ways to participate, including posting to social media (17%), emailing Members of Congress (14%), boycotting a company or corporation (12%), attending a rally or protest (11%), and calling Members of Congress (11%). A majority (56%) of those who took action received information on the action they took from social media.

Despite increased engagement, most Americans continue to lack knowledge about the U.S. Senate, with a slight majority (52%) who could correctly state that each state has two Senators, up from 46% last year. Even with having had Senate elections in 34 states, only 20% of Americans could name both of their Senators, and just 41% could name at least one without prompting.

While knowledge about government is limited, optimism about the future of our democracy continues to prevail among Americans. Last year, the Institute found that most Americans agreed that educating youth about our government can make a difference, and agreement on that statement has increased. Fully 90% agree that “Educating youth about our government leads to a better-functioning democracy,” including 69% that strongly agree with the statement. Last year, 85% agreed with this statement, including 60% who strongly agreed.

The poll additionally showed that Americans trust the media to provide accurate reports on Congress, with only 2% stating a mistrust in news sources. The results show that overall, 31% point to television news stations as their most trusted source, followed by online or print newspapers and magazines (20%). Social media (10%), talk radio (10%), elected officials (8%), and political commentators and online video hosts (8%) follow.

The study was conducted for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute via telephone by Beck Research and SSRS. Interviews were conducted from February 22 – 27, 2017 among a sample of 1,015 adults. Interviews were conducted via live callers on landline and cell phones; 60% of the interviews were completed via cell phone. View the full results here.


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