The ________ Branches of Government

AP Government and Politics

What portion of Americans can correctly identify the three branches of government?

  1. How wildly inaccurate was your prediction?

  2. How sad is that information, tho?

  3. If you knew a person who could not name the three branches of government would you let them still be your friend? And what would you think of them?

  4. 1/3 of all the Americans surveyed could not name a single branch. WHAT THE WHAT?

  5. Can you name all three branches?

  6. Can you name all four? (j/k)

  7. What is the big story this data tells?

  8. If you had to list the top causes that explain the results of this survey what would you list as the top three:

  9. What is one consequence of this level of knowledge of the U.S. Government?

  10. If the average Democrat and Republican were shown the information above and asked to comment on it, how different would their responses be?

  11. Is this information good news for Donald Trump or bad news?

  12. Is there any connection between this information and the 2016 election? Share your answer to this question in the comments section below!

  13. Hey, smarty pants. Why do we have three branches of government anyway?

  14. In Federalist No. 51 (1788), James Madison explains and defends the checks and balances system in the Constitution. Each branch of government is framed so that its power checks the power of the other two branches; additionally, each branch of government is dependent on the people, who are the source of legitimate authority. In Fed. 51, Madison calls the people, “the fountain of authority.” If the vast majority of the people can’t even name the three branches of government should they still be the fountain of authority?

  15. Do you imagine that Americans were any better at naming the three branches back in the 18th century when George Washington was president?

  16. Is it actually important to know the kind of information that you could look up on any smart phone in about 5 seconds?

  17. How different do you think the results of this survey will be in 20 years?

  18. Who do you think would do better at identifying the three branches of government, Justin Bieber (Canadian), the actor who plays Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) in the Harry Potter Movies (English), PewDiePie (Swedish), or the average 10th grader (American) at your school? Explain your answer.

  19. Why do you think that 1% of the people who took this survey “refused” to answer? were they insulted by how easy the survey was? What does “refused” even mean?

  20. Are you depressed about this? I am. Let's talk. Tell me how you feel:

  21. What are some other important facts about our government that you imagine would also be unknown to many Americans?

  22. Any foreign born American who wants to become a citizen will have to pass a citizenship test where they will have to know the answer to this kind of question. Do you think that this kind of questions should be required for citizenship?

  23. Claim: in order to vote any American citizen should have to prove that they can name the three branches of government and answer other important questions about the U.S. Government. Respond to this claim.

  24. List one consequence of requiring a citizenship style test before people are allowed to vote.

  25. Congratulations, you get to title the chart above. What would you name it?

  26. Which of the charts below* is the most depressing?

  27. What percent of statistics are made up on the spot?**


Learning Extension

Read the Annenberg Public Policy report on this survey and weep.

Action Extension (do one of the following)

1-Take a mini-practice citizenship test online and share your results in class or online.

2-Ask ten people to name the three branches of government and share your results in class or online.

* Bonus Smarts Charts

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Okay, Mr. 3% who can name Freedom to petition! Happy now?

Okay, Mr. 3% who can name Freedom to petition! Happy now?




Constitutional Convention

How many proposals to amend the U.S. Constitution have been introduced in Congress?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Overall, what big story does the infographic tell?

  3. What was the most surprising fact from the infographic?

  4. Only 27 out of 11,000 Amendments have been ratified. Why is that?

  5. Describe the ratification process and explain why so few Amendments have actually been ratified.

  6. Describe the connection between the ratification process and federalism:

  7. What is one consequence of the difficulty of ratifying amendments to the U.S. Constitution?

  8. Make a claim about whether the amendment process should be more or less difficult.

  9. Imagine a system whereby amending the Constitution no longer required state input. How would that hypothetical change impact American politics?

  10. Explain the connection between the length (words) of the Constitution and its longevity (years):

  11. The original Constitution did not outlaw slavery and did not allow women to vote. How different do you think the Constitution would be if women and non-Whites had been able to draft it/vote on it?

  12. If you could alter one part of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights what would you change?

  13. Think about something that you would like to fix about our country. Propose an Amendment to the US Constitution:

  14. How are you going to celebrate Constitution Day this September 17th? Share your plans in the comments section below or on Craig's List.

Visual Extension

Learning Extension

Visit the National Constitution Center Website and then try to pass this Bill of Rights Quiz. Share your scores in class or online.

Action Extension

Read about the constitutional amendment process, write a proposal for a new amendment to the constitution, and send it to your congressional representative.


Changes in Democracy

US Government and Politics

How has the percent of the world living in a democracy changed over the past 200 years?

Max Roser - Our World In Data

US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprises you about this chart?

  3. What is the big story this chart tells about democracy in the world?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. What is the most important consequence of this?

  6. Overall, is this good news or bad news?

  7. What the heck is a closed anocracy, and is that the direction the U.S. is headed in under Trump?

  8. What question do you have about this chart?

  9. With the Trump victory and the rise of authoritarian political party power in Europe what do you think the future of democracy looks like over the next 4 or 5 years?

  10. Based on the overall trends of this chart, what would you say to people who are all in a tizzy with worry about the rise of Trump and authoritarian governments around the world?

  11. If the % of people living in democracies has increased, what types of government have most decreased?

  12. If you had to extrapolate and predict where we would be in the next 200 years what prediction would you make?

Learning Extension

Check out this list of the world's closed anocracies

Action Extension

Keep the U.S. a democracy! Go online and Register to vote. If you are not old enough to vote, or already are registered, share this link with your friends on social media.

Bonus Chart

Rockin' In The Free World?

¿How free is the world?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about the map and tables?

  3. What is the big story that this map tells?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. How do you think Freedom House defines and measures “Freedom”?

  6. What geographical patterns or trends do you find in the map?

  7. What is the most free region of the world?

  8. What is the least free region of the world?

  9. What do you think is the main explanation for why some parts of the world are free and others aren't?

  10. Explain whether this is all generally good news or bad news?

  11. In the comments section share whether you think the U.S. should take a role in making the world more free:

Learning Extension

Read the entire Freedom House Report: Freedom In The World 2016

Action Extension

Contact President Obama and explain the role you believe the U.S. should take in making the world more free.

Bonus Map Just For Fun

Driving (R)Age

What is the national minimum driving age?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What was the most surprising thing you learned from this map?

  3. What's the minimum driving age in your state?

  4. Why don't we have a national minimum driving age?

  5. What would the typical Anti-Federalist say about whether we should have a national driver’s age? (I know, I know, they are all dead, you’ve never met an Anti-Federalist. Use your IMAGINATION!)

  6. Explain whether the U.S. of A. should have a national minimum driving age?

  7. How do you think accident rates compare in South Dakota (14.3 driving age) and New Jersey (17 driving age)?

  8. How do you think the US compares to the rest of the world in terms of driving age?*

  9. Describe the connection between the data from this map and federalism.

  10. Imagine that the Constitution had not been ratified - ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! and we were still ruled by the Articles Of Confederation -yiiiiiiiikes! How would that change the national discussion of things like driving age, marijuana legalization, same sex marriage?

  11. Imagine, on the other hand, that we lost the American War for Independence and were still ruled by a king who had absolute power: Boooooooooo! How would that change the national discussion of things like driving age, marijuana legalization, same sex marriage?

  12. Would you be willing for your state to raise the driving age by two years if your state also simultaneously lowered the drinking age by two years?

  13. Based on the map, to which state would you most want to move?

  14. Explain whether the U.S. has been moving towards or away from a more powerful federal government, relative to the states. Give one or two examples to support your claim.

  15. Describe how driving age regulations relate to checks and balances.

  16. Let’s say that you wanted to create a national minimum driving age. Describe the steps a bill would have to pass through to make this happen.

  17. Imagine that the national auto insurance coalition wants to create a national driving age. Describe three steps they could take to make this happen.

  18. In the comments section below, write your reaction to news that your state legislature is considering raising the minimum driving age in your state by one year.

*Visual Extension


Learning Extension

States with strict graduated drivers licenses see up to 30% fewer crashes. Read this short report on three Senators who are trying to create a standard national graduated drivers license.

Action Extension

Contact your U.S. Senator and let them know what you think about a national graduated drivers license (GDL)

Our World In Data Extension

Our Animals in Clothes Extension