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Few know Constitution well, poll says


WASHINGTON - Americans mark the 215th anniversary of the Constitution today, even though most of them say they don't know much about what's in it.

Although only 16 percent of adult Americans say they have a "detailed" knowledge of the document, a strong majority agrees with its bedrock principle: that the country should follow the will of the majority while protecting the rights of minorities, according to a survey taken to coincide with the anniversary of the Constitution's signing.

Only 16 percent of American adults said they have a "detailed" knowledge of the Constitution, but a solid majority, 66 percent, said they had a general understanding of the document that frames America's structure of government and guarantees its citizens their rights.

Nearly nine out of 10, 87 percent, said they agreed with its underlying values.

"This survey shows that [though] the text of the Constitution is captured imprecisely in people's heads, its principles and values are alive and well in their hearts," said Joseph Torsella, president of the National Constitution Center.

The center, established by Congress to increase understanding of the Constitution, commissioned the poll, which was performed by Public Agenda, a New York-based research group. It was conducted in July and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. It was financed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Despite general agreement with the Constitution, many Americans harbor doubts that its ideals have been achieved, and few want it forced on other nations:

65 percent said the rich and powerful have more rights;

66 percent said the United States should help other countries replicate the Constitution only if they ask.

41 percent say the right to privacy is threatened, and another 24 percent believe the right has been lost.

57 percent see banks and credit card companies as the biggest threats to privacy, and 29 percent see the federal government as the biggest threat.

Freedom of the press is the least popular right guaranteed by the Constitution, with 43 percent saying the Founding Fathers went too far.

The right to keep and bear arms is the most divisive, with 32 percent saying it goes too far and 26 percent saying it has been too restricted.

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