PBS: By the People, Election 2004
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Identifying Major Issues

In this lesson students will analyze major issues in the current presidential campaign. Additionally, they will identify individuals or groups affected by each issue and compare candidates' political stances.

I. Objectives
II. Estimated Time
III. Necessary Materials
IV. Teaching Procedure
V. Evaluation Activities
VI. Assessment Recommendations
VII. Extension/Adaptation Ideas
VIII. Online Resources
IX. Relevant National Standards

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I. Objectives

Students will research issues in the current presidential campaign.

Students will collect material from a variety of sources.

Students will prioritize issues according to their impact on voter choice.

Students will assess the effects of issues on voters.

Students will compare candidates' stands on issues.

II. Estimated Time
7-10 hours

III. Necessary Materials

Current newspapers and magazines


Computers with Internet access

Campaign literature

IV. Procedure

1. Students will brainstorm topics in the current presidential campaign. Topics may include health care, taxes, energy, gun control, education, farm policy, Social Security, crime, foreign policy, defense, the environment, civil rights, social programs and campaign finance reform.

2. Students may work with a partner to investigate one or two topics, or they may work in groups to investigate several topics.

3. Students will collect materials on campaign issues from newspapers, magazines and online sources. They may also take notes on TV speeches or interviews.

4. Students will identify key political issues within their general topics. Example: education-related issues may include funding for school construction, expansion of Head Start and use of school vouchers. Foreign policy may include the U.S. occupation of Iraq, immigration and trade with Cuba.

5. Each pair of students or group will identify citizens most affected by a particular issue and compare presidential candidates' stands on the issue. They may wish to present the information in chart form.

6. Students will summarize and share their findings. Which issues are the candidates in substantial agreement? On which issues do the candidates differ? Which citizens are most affected by each issue?

7. Students will identify issues on which the candidates differ and which affect a sizable number of voters. Based on their analysis, students will form conclusions as to which issues are most likely to affect voters' decisions in the presidential election.

Example: If most candidates favor handing more authority over to the United Nations in Iraq and few citizens feel directly affected by the issue, that issue would receive a low priority. However, if candidates disagree on the issue of school vouchers, which affects many citizens, that issue would be more likely to influence voter choice in the presidential election.

V. Evaluation Activities
Students may:

Focus on one of the issues identified as a priority in the upcoming presidential election. The student would write two campaign speeches: one aimed at a friendly audience and one aimed at an audience, which opposes the candidate's stand on the issue.

Develop a chart that summarizes candidates' stands on controversial issues and identifies groups expected to support each candidate on that issue.

Write a letter to the editor from the point of view of an individual affected by a campaign issue. (Example: a teacher on an educational issue or a senior citizen on Social Security.) The letter should demonstrate an understanding of two or more candidates' stands on the issue and conclude by supporting one of the candidates.

Identify one or more issues on which the student disagrees with most or all of the presidential candidates. The student may write an op-ed piece pointing out the need for a new political party or candidate to represent the opposing view. Or the student may create a web site for a new, dissenting candidate.

Develop position papers for a debate on several of the issues identified as most likely to affect voters' decisions.

Write a scenario for a press conference for one of the candidates. Arrange for well-prepared journalists to ask tough questions about controversial issues.

Design a campaign flyer that supports a candidate's stand on one or more issues while criticizing his opponent.

VI. Assessment Recommendations
Student projects may be assessed according to accuracy of presenting candidates' stands on issues, the clarity of presentation and creativity. A superior project would demonstrate an in-depth understanding of considered issues and their probable impact on voter decision-making.

VII. Extension/Adaptation Ideas
Students may use the strategy outlined in this lesson plan to analyze issues in a senatorial or congressional campaign. They may also identify special interest groups and political action committees (PACs) which influence or support candidates on key issues. Additionally, they may research the type of support which various groups offer, i.e., funds, publicity and organizational skills.

From their analysis students will develop an understanding of how specific groups affect the presidential election.

Example: From their research students will learn that many senior citizens who are concerned about candidates' stands on Social Security belong to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). From reading the organization's publications, examining its Web site, and researching other current sources, students will develop an understanding of AARP's influence on the presidential election.

VIII. Online Resources
Candidates' Web Sites

George W. Bush

John Kerry

Ralph Nader

IX. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL at


Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government

Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics

Understands issues regarding personal, political and economic rights

Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals

Language Arts

Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts

Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning

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