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November 2005

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


What Does "Separation of Powers" Mean? Many Americans Unsure

A Harris Poll conducted for the American Bar Association shows that civic knowledge may not be the strong suit of many Americans.

In response to the question, "What are the three branches of government?," 55 percent correctly identified the three branches of government, but 22 percent named the branches as Republican, Democrat and Independent; and 16 percent believed the three branches are local, state, and federal.

When asked what "separation of powers" means, 48 percent correctly said it meant Congress, the President, and the federal courts each have different responsibilities; 27 percent said it means different federal departments have different powers; and 15 percent said the federal government does some things, and state governments have other powers. Six percent thought it meant Republicans can do some things; Democrats can do others.

And finally, 48 percent of those polled correctly identified the role of the Judiciary in the federal government. Twenty-nine percent thought the Judiciary’s role was to advise the President and Congress about the legality of an action they intend to take in the future. Nine percent said the role of the Judiciary was to establish new courts.

The poll was conducted of 1,002 adult Americans, ages 18 or older, from July 22 through July 27, 2005. To see the complete poll, visit www.uscourts.gov/newsroom/divisionofpowers_705.pdf.