PBS: By the People, Election 2004
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Presidential Campaign Stop

Students are to plan a campaign stop in Anytown, U.S.A., a mid-size fictional city. They will need to select where the candidate will appear and with whom, how to handle the media and what he or she will say during the visit to best reach that city's potential voters.

Estimated Time of Completion: 90 minutes

I. Objectives
II. Materials
III. Background
IV. Teaching Procedure
V. Assessment Recommendations
VI. Extensions and Adaptations
VII.Online Resources
VIII. Relevant Standards

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I. Objectives

  • identify main tasks of a campaign
  • evaluate the kinds of decisions a campaign must make
  • discern the importance of the media's impact

II. Necessary Materials

III. Background
Political scientists say that campaigns:

  • reinforce voters' preferences for a candidate
  • activate voters by getting them to donate money or volunteer time
  • convert voters by getting them to change their minds.

Research shows that campaigns usually reinforce and activate voters but rarely convert them. So why do candidates spend so much time and money campaigning? According to an old adage, 80 percent of what a candidate does makes no difference; no one knows what works and what doesn't, so candidates must do everything to get the benefit of the 20 percent.

When voter turnout is low, reinforcing and activating supporters may in fact provide the winning margin.

Third, in close races converting a small number of voters can make the difference between winning and losing.

Fourth, campaigning is one way that public support for policy, especially policy changes, is established.

Fifth, it is also simply expected of candidates. One who did not campaign for the job would be spurned by voters.

In the end, and for whatever reason, campaigns have become expensive, media-oriented rituals of American politics. Understanding how they function is an important component of voter education.

IV. Teaching Procedure

1. Explain to students that they will be acting as campaign managers, planning an 8-hour trip to a fictional town for a presidential candidate. Divide students into groups of 4-5, depending upon class size. The stop must be designed to:

  • get their candidate's policy positions across to voters locally and nationally
  • calculated to have maximum media coverage
  • reinforce and activate natural constituencies
  • be trouble free

2. Distribute to students copies of Worksheet 1, which includes a letter from the City Manager (requesting a visit from the candidate) and describes the characteristics of Anytown, USA (providing students will all the information they will need to plan the event).

Students will need to agree on basic assumptions about their fictional candidate's party affiliation, position on major issues, etc.

3. Develop a schedule of stops in Cyberton, selecting at least three sites for campaign events. It must be written in fifteen-minute intervals. Students should be certain to include the following in their itinerary:

  • Identify the activities (such as touring, holding a press conference, visiting with a citizen, or giving a speech) that will occur at each stop.
  • Carefully identify the community leaders that will be asked to participate in the event. For example, will the Democratic mayor appear alongside a Republican candidate? Would the union leader?
  • Plan the media coverage that will be sought at each of the events. For example, which ones will be open to the media? Which forms of media will be granted access? What visual backdrop will candidates want to have?
  • Identify the main message(s) that candidates will want to deliver to voters and the media during the various events.

Worksheet 2 offers a sample itinerary that students can use as a model.

V. Assessment Recommendations
Points will be earned for the conjunction of: message and locality (for example, school choice and charter school visit) policy and leaders (for example, selecting a labor union leader to accompany your candidate who is opposed to free trade) media coverage (for example, did you create media event that will dictate how the media covers what your candidate says and does?) Points will be deducted for:

  • message and locality mismatches
  • policy and leaders mismatches
  • poor media planning

    Additional points will be rewarded for:
  • completeness
  • creativity

VI. Extensions and Adaptations

  • Writing a Speech. Have students write speeches geared toward convince the people of Anytown to vote for their candidate. It must link local issues to your candidate's national positions and must reference local leaders.
  • Actual Event. Have the students attend a campaign event; it could be a local, state, or national event. Give students copies of Worksheet 3 and have them use it to take notes while attending the event. Have students report to the class on the visit and together evaluate the success of the stop using the goals outlined in Worksheet 1.
  • Plan Your Own. Have students research your own community with an eye to planning a campaign stop for actual candidates seeking national office. Use Worksheet 1 and Worksheet 2 to plan the visit. Divide the class into groups working for different candidates. Have each group plan out a visit for their assigned candidate, selecting an appropriate site, leaders to accompany the candidate, and one of their themes or messages for the visit.

VII. Online Resources

VIII. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL at

Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government. Understands the relationships among liberalism, republicanism, and American constitutional democracy.

  • Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.
  • Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media.
  • Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics.
  • Understands the formation and implementation of public policy evaluate the influence of public opinion on public policy and the behavior of public officials.
  • Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.

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