Seven common misunderstandings about the US government
Politics and Activism

7 Things U.S. Citizens Get Wrong About Government

I am no expert in the U.S. government, but as a political science student, lover of history and avid politics follower here are 10 things I have noticed citizens don't understand about politics.


No one understands every aspect of the government unless you are in it and even then it is still hard to understand it all. However, there are some pretty obvious misconceptions that citizens make about how the government works.

1. No one seems to understand the electoral college.

The electoral college has been debated since it's creation with the original purpose to be a second step between the government and citizens who don't understand politics. However, the electoral college is out of date and no longer doing its job.

Most people believe when you vote in a Presidential election your personal vote counts, but thanks to the electoral college it doesn't, especially in small states. Each state is given a certain amount of electoral delegates based on population as well as Congressional seats and those delegates are supposed to cast a Presidential vote based on the state they are representing's popular vote, or total vote of the people.

This happens for the most part, but not always. The only way to make a huge impact as a citizen is to get a larger block of people voting the same way as you so that the electoral college will vote (hopefully) in the direction.

The electoral college is an interesting conception and I encourage you to learn more.

2. People often say that the U.S. is a democracy, it's not. 

Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, this country is a republic. A republic is a form of government that is run by REPRESENTATIVES of the people. This also makes us a representative democracy because as citizens we elect who are representing us. These are completely different things than a true democracy where each person gets a vote. The closest thing to a democracy we have is the popular vote in the Presidential election.

So next time someone says the U.S. is a democracy remind them that it is not. Learn more about this in this Washington Post article!

3. The concept that the President has Supreme Control of the Land is false. 

Checks and balances guarantee no branch of the government has complete control over the United States. Yes, this means the executive branch led by the President can't just decide to launch a nuclear war or deport everyone who isn't caucasian, even if they try to.

The biggest power of the President actually comes with vetoing legislation, even Governors have this power in state governments. If the President does not agree with a piece of legislation he (or she!) can veto that legislation and send it back to Congress to be re-written or thrown out (however, Congress and the Supreme Court have ways they can both overturn a Presidential veto).

Just remember next time you are mad about the law or basically anything other than an executive order or racist comments that the issues you have are probably with the legislative branch, not the executive.

VoteSmart is an awesome resource where you can learn more about executive branch powers!

4. The Government controls all of North America. 

This misconception is so false it hurts. While yes, the government controls all of the United States as well as territories like Puerto Rico (yes Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens!), there are other countries on the North American continent and so when you say someone is an American they could be from Canada, Mexico, even Greenland, and anywhere else on the North American continent.

So, no, the U.S government does NOT control all of North America, they only control the United States and territories.

For more information about U.S. Territories, like Puerto Rico, take a look at the U.S. Citizenship website!

5. English is the official language of the U.S. and the Government.

The United States does not recognize an official language because we are a melting pot and welcoming of all countries, cultures and languages (at least we are supposed to be).

Due to colonization, English is the most spoken and written language, but there are hundreds of different languages spoken within the country, and the Government does not recognize any language as being the official language every citizen is required to speak.

Babble Magazine talks about the 'official language' of the U.S. and gives fun facts about language in this country!

6. The United States only has one government.

I can see where this gets confusing, especially if you don't vote, but no, as citizens we do not only have one government and set of laws to follow. The national government has jurisdiction and responsibility to control certain aspects of the country.

However, as citizens we also have to follow state and local laws and governments as well. You can even vote on certain local laws during elections for state offices!

You can learn all about your own state governments by looking them up on!

7. The government is required to be based on Christian ideals.

I hate to break it to everyone on Facebook, but no, our country is not a Christian country. Yes, predominately government officials have been Christians and followed Christian ideals, but they don't have to.

The U.S. is supposed to separate church and state. This does not mean separating morals from a decision, but using the Bible or other Christian texts to make decisions for the country as a whole is not something that should happen.

Americans United is a great resource for all your church and state questions.

Bonus Fact: We are citizens of the United States more specifically than just Americans.

North America and South America have a lot of countries making up the continents and every country's citizens could call themselves Americans, so when you are talking about U.S. citizens and call them Americans, you are actually referring to a whole lot of people from different countries! If you want to specifically talk about U.S citizens then say citizens of the United States!

Look here for a list of all the countries that make up the North American continent!

I am so passionate about educating people about government and politics, obviously, I'm studying it in school! I really want to encourage you to read through this, click the links I have attached and do your own research on our government.

Bonus points if you do it before the next election!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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