Seventeen seventy when?


For Americans, July 4th is a big celebration with picnics, fireworks, parades and so on. Given all the annual hoopla, it is surprising that the number of people who know that 1776 was the year of American independence is so low.

Only 58% of residents know that the United States declared its independence in 1776. 26% are unsure, and 16% mentioned another date.

There are age differences on this question. Younger Americans are the least likely to know the correct answer. Only 31% of adults younger than 30 say that 1776 is the year in which the United States broke away from Great Britain. 59% of residents between 30 and 44 report the same. Americans 45 to 59 — 75% — are the age group most likely to have the correct answer. Among those 60 and older, 60% report that 1776 is the year in which the United States declared its independence.

When it comes to gender, men — 65% — are more likely to respond with 1776 than are women — 52%.

And, for the second year, about one in four Americans doesn’t know from which country the United States declared its independence. While 76% correctly cite Great Britain, 19% are unsure, and 5% mention another country.

You can see the full survey results here.

Of course, we should not infer from this that younger people are more clueless now than corresponding age groups in the past. This is always the danger with polls that break things down by age cohorts but do not give similar age cohort breakdowns from earlier times. It is quite likely that as people get older, they are more likely to pick up such facts.

In reading this, I became curious as to what percentage of American know that July 4th celebrates independence at all, let alone the year in which it occurred.

Comments

  1. Charles Sullivan says

    I think many Americans in the older group will remember the bicentennial celebration of 1976. The media and the government made a big deal of it as I recall (I was a young teenager then).

  2. Matt Penfold says

    I’m British and I have been asked in all seriousness by a couple Americans if we celebrate Independence Day in the UK. I’m almost certain they were being serious.

  3. 'Tis Himself says

    I’m so glad the US fought the War of 1812 to gain independence from Botswana. If we hadn’t won, we’d all be speaking German or Urdu and I don’t know a word of those languages. :-þ

  4. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Tis:

    It’s better than what would have happened if we’d lost WW2 in the late 1800s when the Maine was sunk by a sneak attack off Cuba.

    Cause at least I know someone who speaks German, but if we’d lost to Cuba, we’d be speaking Cubism and I don’t know anyone who understands that 5#17!

  5. Frank says

    So about a quarter of the population doesn’t know the year of American independence–that is troubling. But another sixth “know” the answer, but are wrong? Seriously? I would love to hear what other years they mention. I would guess 1812 gets a few mentions, but beyond that?

  6. says

    Good afternoon Matt,

    Before he retired my father worked for a company that had a number of international engineers filtering in and out of his department. For a while there was an engineer from England.

    My dad once asked Clive if Thanksgiving was celebrated in Great Britain and Clive, I swear he had been waiting for this opportunity for years, replied without missing a beat:

    “Yes, every 4th of July.”

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  7. Lizard says

    In June of 1992, we celebrated Kentucky’s 200th anniversary of joining the union by having the same sort of downtown activities as we have every July 4th. For over the next 10 years, I “remembered” July 1992 as the country’s bicentennial celebration. I was in college when I finally got the dates straightened out.

  8. says

    Good afternoon Mano,

    The 4th of July date is, at best, a bit of historical fiction. The declaration was signed the day before and read publicly for the first time on the 4th. Of course the news of the declaration didn’t reach the rest of the colonies or Great Britain for weeks afterwards.

    I’d be interested to know how many people know the more important dates of the surrender of British forces to George Washington at Yorktown and the signing of the Treaty of Paris ending the war with the formal recognition by the British Crown that the American Colonies were, in fact, no longer a part of the commonwealth.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

    oh, Cornwallis surrendered on 19 October 1781 and the Treaty of Paris was signed on 3 September 1783.

  9. Ysanne says

    I’m curious how the numbers would look when you’re taking political affiliation into account.
    In Germany a few years ago the conservatives started going on about the “leading culture” and how immigrants should know basics of German history/politics/”judeo-christian culture” to be granted residence. So one of the larger TV stations sent a camera team to a party meeting where this stuff was getting discussed, and asked some random delegates a few simple questions.
    Turns out that hardly any of those guys could correctly recite the first article of the German constitution, any of the ten commandments (most of them went for some variation of “treat others as you would like others to treat you” for both of these questions), the first few lines of the national anthem, or even the year when the Berlin wall fell…

  10. F says

    How did 1776 not get memed into the current patriotism?* Regardless, I guess no one does ever pay attention in school, or to pervasive facts.

    *Oh, I know, Pearl Harbor is more important, at least among the older crowd, now. It’s good for all sorts of stuff.

  11. cathyw says

    I might suggest another reason for high “success” among the 40-something cohort: We grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock between episodes of Superfriends and Laffalympics on Saturday mornings. Some of the history cartoons totally sell American exceptionalism (e.g. “Elbow Room” neglects to mention the people who got “elbowed” out), but the ones about the Revolution get the basic facts down, and gosh darn if I don’t have about four of them running through my head simultaneously right now… which was kind of the point.

    These aired from the mid-’70s through the early ’80’s – so I’d be curious to see a breakdown of the results from the 35-50 age range (covering kids who would have been watching Saturday cartoons in that time frame) instead of 30-45 and 45-59.

  12. says

    I don’t understand how you could not know this. It’s not like I made a special effort to memorize it. I’m not patriotic. It’s just one of those things that’s mentioned constantly. How can you not know it?

  13. leni says

    I can’t even remember the Columbus year and that one has a freaking song. 1462? 1642? No clue. I’m pretty sure it ends in a 2 though.

  14. left0ver1under says

    Only 58% of residents know that the United States declared its independence in 1776. 26% are unsure, and 16% mentioned another date.

    There are age differences on this question. Younger Americans are the least likely to know the correct answer. Only 31% of adults younger than 30 say that 1776 is the year in which the United States broke away from Great Britain.

    Of course, we should not infer from this that younger people are more clueless now than corresponding age groups in the past.

    No, but it certainly does suggest that rightwing “educational values” have corrupted the entire US school system. Kids are being taught nonsense in so many areas, why be surprised that it happens in others?

    * “abstinence only” instead of sex education

    * evolution is “just a theory”

    * climate change is “controversial” and evidence for it denied

    * current events (e.g. idiots who believe Iraq was involved in 9/11)

    * “no child left behind” and attacks on teaching unions instead of supporting teachers and ensuring proper education

    And it’s happening in many areas of “US history” taught in schools:

    * slavery being described as “triangular trade”

    * fundy christian “textbooks” calling the KKK a positive influence

    * attempts to rewrite “Huckleberry Finn” without certain words, revising the history and language of the times

    * Texas attempting to edit out Thomas Jefferson in favour or religious dogma

    The rightwing have gotten what they wanted: a generation of idiots who will cause the collapse of the US as a nation.

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