Utahns overwhelmingly support the idea of the Legislature requiring public high school graduates to pass a civics test similar to the one new American citizens must pass.
Support goes across political, economic and religious lines, finds a new UtahPolicy poll.
Among all Utahns, pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds 84 percent support such a new law, only 14 percent oppose it.
Before someone can become a new citizen, he or she must meet several conditions, including passing a test on basic U.S. history, how our democratic republic operates, the various branches of government and so on.
Jonathan Johnson, chairman and CEO of Overstock.com, is pushing the new law that would require future high school graduates to meet the same test.
His interview last year with UPD Managing Editor Bryan Schott is here.
Jones finds that Republicans support the idea, 87-12 percent; Democrats support it, 84-13 percent; and political independents support it, 86-13 percent.
Oddly enough, what little opposition there is comes from those who belong to minor political parties. But they still support the measure, 69-25 percent.
Johnson says there are about 100 civics questions on the new citizen test. “It is not a hard test,” he told Schott.
But if it is not mandatory in order to get a high school diploma or the GED, “then kids won’t do it.”
In fact, Jones found that young adults, those 18-24, who most recently got out of high school, the testing idea is supported 75-21 percent.
So even three-fourths of the younger Utahns still like the idea of having to learn the most basics of American history and how our government works.
Utah’s voter turnout in general elections has been dropping for years.
Political scientists and educators have various ideas on why that is, considering that back in the 1980s and 1990s Utahns had one of the best voter participation rates in the nation.
One idea, said Johnson, is that Utahns are not voting as they should because they don’t understand the importance in a democracy of being informed and active citizens.
"Thomas Jefferson said, ‘an educated citizenry is a vital requirement for our survival as a free people.’ If we are to remain free, our children need to know how our government works and their role in it," said Johnson. "Making sure they understand basic U.S. civics before graduating from high school is good first step in that direction.”
And it is well known that younger Utahns have even poorer voter turnout than older Utahns.
Making high school graduates understand America’s history, how its government works, and how it only works best if people know their government and participate in it is one way to turn that unfortunate trend around, says Johnson.