Special Report

21 Questions About America That Americans Can't Answer

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What were the original 13 states?

Another question on the U.S. citizenship test asks applicants to name the original 13 states that ratified the Constitution. Seventy-two percent of Americans surveyed by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in 2018 couldn’t correctly name them. They are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

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What city was the first capital of the United States?

Many Americans may know that Washington D.C. was not the original seat of the federal government, but they might not know which city was. At various times, the nation’s capital was located in eight different cities, including three in Pennsylvania, and two each in New Jersey and Maryland. Anyone who has visited Wall Street, however, has probably seen the large bronze sculpture of George Washington in front of the Federal Hall National Memorial. That’s where the Congress of the Confederation, the country’s first central government, convened – making New York City the country’s first capital.

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What share of the American population was born abroad?

With so much debate raging about U.S. immigration policy and so much media coverage of migrants seeking refuge in the United States, it might be understandable that Americans vastly overestimate how much of the U.S. population was born abroad. A survey by Ipsos MORI in 2015 found that Americans on average believe a third of the population was born outside of the United States. The correct answer was 14% in 2015 and that share remains relatively unchanged to this day.

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What percentage of the US population are atheists?

A 2015 survey by Ipsos MORI found that respondents in 31 out of 33 countries, led by India and Spain, significantly overestimated the number of citizens who do not affiliate themselves with any religion. Respondents in the United States also got it wrong, believing that about 40% of Americans identify as atheists or agnostics, while the reality is about 20%.

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What is the average annual full-time salary?

Just as many Americans overestimate how much of the nation’s wealth is held by the fabled 1%, they also underestimate the average annual salary of a full-time American worker. In a 2015 survey, Ipsos MORI found that most American respondents thought that number was $26,000. In fact, at the time it was about $41,000. Today, it’s about $58,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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