PBS: By the People, Election 2004
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Campaign Finance Simulation

Estimated Time of Completion: 3 hours

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

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I. Objectives
Students will:

understand the process that takes place between a constituency and a candidate for public office;

assess and personally experience the strategies that are required to effectively deal with special interest groups and fundraising requirements;

analyze the contrast between direct democracy and the influence of money on decision making and campaigning;

understand the relationship between "interest" and "money" in modern American politics.

II. Necessary Materials

Toy money

Paper and pencil

III. Estimated Time
3 hours

IV. Teaching Procedure
1. This simulation requires three rounds (the Direct Democracy Round, the Campaign Finance Round and the Special Interests Round) lasting a minimum of 60 minutes, preferably in quick succession. The activity also involves some minimal role playing by students.

The class should be divided such that 1/3 of the students are candidates and the other 2/3 are voters. Initially, no discussion of campaign finance should take place and the activity should be characterized as a lesson on political negotiation.

The instructor poses a hypothetical situation: A controversial bill to make "gizmos" legal in the United States is about to be voted on. Voters are all committed to getting the bill passed. Candidates are left to decide whether they are for or against the bill. Each voter carries a "voting record" that indicates the candidate will do one of five actions:
1. definitely vote for the bill
2. probably will vote for the bill
3. no commitment
4. probably will not vote for the bill
5. definitely will not vote for the bill

The voting record is what the candidate agreed to at the end of the voter meeting and is maintained throughout each round by the voter.

2. Round I: Direct Democracy Voters meet individually for no more than five minutes with each candidate, so convincing the candidate quickly is important. The candidates listen to each student who makes up arguments for the "gizmo" bill. At the end of the meeting the voter has the candidate sign off on the voting record. Some voters may end up meeting with a few candidates, other voters may meet with all of them, but that is a legitimate part of the dynamic.

When all the voters are finished tally the results, coding each answer on the "voting record" 1-5, five being a definite vote for the bill. Each voter then divides the final total by the number of candidates met to find an average score.

The instructor leads a discussion on why some students got a higher average score from the candidates than others and how the bill would fare overall. Candidates are asked to state their final position on the bill based on the meetings with voters.

3. Round II: Campaign Finance

The next round includes money. Two thousand dollars of toy money in the form of $100 bills is passed out to each voter. The voters are told they can only give a maximum of one thousand dollars to any one candidate. They are given a new "voting record." Candidates are told separately from the voters that they now must raise money in their discussions but are reminded that they are still role-playing candidates and should act accordingly. Voter groups meet with each candidate for no more than five minutes.

When time ends, the average score of the voting records are compared to the first round. The instructor should focus the discussion on how the "money" both affected the negotiations, the voting record and the final view of each candidate. Special attention should be paid to the differences between Round I and Round II and how the need for campaign funding changes the voter/candidate dynamic. Candidates that raised a lot of money or completely reversed their original position from Round I should be singled out for special attention along with voters who were miserly in their use of funds.

4. Round III

The final round illustrates the impact of laws allowing for PACs and other ways around individual donor limits. Voters should form a group with a maximum of three people to meet with the candidates and combine their money to provide bigger donations to the candidates. The instructor should be careful not to require the voters to combine, leaving some voters to continue to act individually if they so choose. Though not required, voters should be encouraged to seek out different candidates from Rounds I and II. As before, "voting records" should be kept of all meetings between voters and candidates.

The results from Round III should then be compared to the results of Rounds I and II. If there is little difference from Rounds I and II, the discussion should focus on why that would be the case and how the voter groups (PACs) changed the environment. Did candidates approached by the groups react differently than those approached by individual voters? Were there any individual voters in Round III or did all the students join into groups? How did the introduction of "money" alter the dynamic between voter and candidate?

Students should discuss the best "voting record" based on the scoring system, as well as the candidates who raised the most money in Round II and Round III. (Voters with the "worst" record, or candidates who raised the least amount of money might also be of interst.) Winners and losers can be declared and asked to address the group and explain their strategies or experiences.

V. Extension/Adaptation Ideas

The Designated PAC Simulation.
Rather than just let the students loosely organize the "PACs," designate groups with specific interests and agendas. For example, instead of a hypothetical bill or governmental policy, the class could be given a real issue like gun control. Each voter group is identified as a stakeholder in the gun control debate evenly from the right and the left. Such groups would include the NRA, victim's right groups, Children's Defense Fund, police officer's associations, gun manufacturer's association, or the ACLU. Each "special interest" group is given time to develop their position on gun control and then present it to the candidates using the framework already discussed. Each round could include money or just the voting records. The candidates could also stipulate their personal position prior to the meetings and then discuss any changes in their position after the meetings. If money is employed, students can discuss the total fundraising for each candidate and whether he or she was willing to compromise or indulge the request of each special interest.

The Reporter's Pool.
A small group of students are designated as "journalists" at the beginning of Round I. The journalists would observe the meetings in each round and report to the entire group prior to overall analysis of the results. The journalists could even gather briefly before the general meeting of the class and put together a "news" program that reviews the day's events. A discussion on how candidates saw the meeting could follow.

Perception and Negotiation.
Have the voters keep a record of their results the candidates also keep a record of what they believe they agreed to during the meetings. After each round comparisons are made between voter and candidate records. Differences can be discussed in terms of how closely the two sides viewed each other's demands and results. Pairs of voting records reveal how effective the meetings were and whether candidates who disagreed with the voters were close to or far from agreeing.

VI. Online Resources

Public Citizen Congress Watch

Public Campaign

Alliance for Better Campaigns

VII. Relevant National Standards
This lesson addresses the following national curriculum standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

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

Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy.

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