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Gallup Vault: Praise for U.S. Constitution at 200 Years

Thirty years ago this month, Michael Jackson led the Top 40 charts, Martina Navratilova won the women's U.S. Open, and Americans were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Leading up to this milestone in 1987, Gallup found barely half of U.S. adults -- 53% -- agreeing that the Constitution was still "basically sound and meets the needs of our country."

Slight Majority in 1987 Thought U.S. Constitution Still Sound
Do you believe that after 200 years the Constitution is still basically sound and meets the needs of our country, or do you think the Constitution is in need of some basic changes or amendments?
U.S. adults
Basically sound 53
Need changes or amendments 44
Don't know 3
Gallup/Newsweek, May 17-18, 1987

The flip side of this rather tame endorsement of the status quo was that a healthy minority -- 44% -- thought the Constitution was "in need of some basic changes or amendments."

Belief that the historical document remained sound was higher among college graduates (72%) than college nongraduates (48%); among adults 30 and older (56%) than those younger than 30 (42%); and among whites (55%) than nonwhites (36%).

At the same time, the poll found most Americans endorsing the basic division of governmental responsibilities across the executive, judicial and legislative branches. Asked which of two views they agreed with, 73% of U.S. adults said the separation of powers was a good idea because "it keeps any one branch from becoming too powerful." Just 19% said the inherent checks and balances were a "bad idea" because they "get in the way of efficient government."

Gallup hasn't repeated these questions since 1987, but in 1995 it asked about the likelihood that within 20 years, the Constitution would no longer be used as the basis for governing the country. One-third thought this was likely, while two-thirds said unlikely. Debate over the interpretation and relevance of the Constitution persists, but 20 years have come and gone since the 1995 poll, and today -- at 230 years old -- the Constitution is still the law of the land. The separation of powers remains vital, and no new amendments to the Constitution have been adopted.

The original Gallup news release is available here.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.