In this lesson, students will examine their own political beliefs and compare these with the political philosophies of the six major U.S. political parties and the Tea Party movement. Students will then assume the role of political strategists from one of these organizations, conduct further research on this party’s stand on the issues, and develop a political strategy to get their candidates massage out to the voters.
The upcoming midterm elections might prove to be transitional for the Democrat majority now in Congress. Much of the focus in the news is on how Republicans are poised to displace Democrats in the House and Senate and the possibility that more Republican governors will be elected. And then there is the growing influence of the Tea Party movement which has successfully supported like-minded candidates in state primaries. But there are several other political parties who also will be running candidates and looking to influence voters in the upcoming election. Though sometimes marginalized as “also rans,” these “third parties” have influenced the two major parties for decades and more recently, third parties have inspired members of the Tea Party movement to take action for causes they believe in.
Begin by placing students into small groups of 3 or 4. Ask them to discuss what political party, if any, they identify with most, Democrat or Republican, or any of the “third parties” such as the Libertarian, Green, America First, or Constitutional Party as well as the Tea Party movement. Ask them why they feel this allegiance or if they don’t support any political party, ask them why. Ask them if there are any aspects of their party of choice that they don’t support and why.
Now tell students that they will take a quick survey of their political influences and compare these with the major political organizations. Distribute the student handout “Where do you Stand?” to all students. Review the directions with them and ask them to individually review the survey questions, and then discuss with them the Group Discussion Questions.
Then have students individually fill out the three column chart on the handout. After students have filled out the chart, have them write three sentences explaining how their top influences have shaped their political beliefs. Have students share their answers. (To save time on this activity, have students review the survey questions and the three-column chart as homework the night before you conduct the activity.)
Close the activity with a brief discussion about how events, people, and experiences can shape people’s political philosophies. Were there common elements (events, people, or experiences) that students picked as most influential? Did the same event, person, or experience affect student’s political beliefs in different ways? Are there ways in which all students or a majority of students’ political philosophies overlap?
*This activity was adopted from “Politics is Personal,” New York Times Learning Network, http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/02/05/the-political-is-personal/
Main Activity Part 1
After students have finished the self-survey, they will compare their political beliefs with the political philosophies of the major parties and the Tea Party movement. Remind students that their survey responses are influenced by different events, people, and experiences and thus, their political beliefs might not adhere completely to any one political organization.
- Divide the class into seven groups.
- Distribute the student handout, “Political Party Briefing Notes” and ask students to review the political philosophies of each party.
- Then have them compare their political beliefs with those of the political organizations. Do they align with one or more of the organizations’ beliefs? Which ones and why?
- Then assign each group one of the political parties and have them complete the research questions for their assigned party. Note: Students can visit the sites below and others to get a solid understanding of the political organizations.
Suggested Research Sites
- After students have completed their research, conduct a quick review of all parties by having a spokesperson from each group briefly summarize their organization’s political philosophy, history, accomplishments, and main issues of concern.
- Ask the class to point out similarities and differences between the political organizations.
Main Activity Part 2
Tell students that in this activity they will develop a campaign strategy to run candidates in their assigned organization in the November elections. They are to analyze their party’s stand on various issues and determine ways to get their message out to the voting public.
- Distribute the student handout “Campaign Strategies” to all students
- Keep students in their groups from the previous activity. Tell students they may use information from the NewsHour stories listed in their handout as well as political news stories from other sources to answer the research questions.
- After students have conducted their research, have them build the party’s strategy by discussing the questions on their handout.
- Provide an opportunity for students from the different party groups to comment on each other’s strategies.
- In the run up to the midterm elections, voters are expressing strong feelings regarding their relationship with their government. To get an idea of voter mood in your community, have students create an opinion survey. Have students consider measuring the level of discontent among the school or community population. To construct the survey, they should determine a target audience and method for conducting the poll. The target audience can be voters of a certain age or political party or a large sampling of the general population. The survey can be conducted either as a paper survey, interview, telephone, or a web survey. Then have students analyze the survey by breaking down each questions’ response in percentages, summarizing the findings, and looking for inconsistencies and surprises. Then have them summarize their results and how political strategists might use this information to navigate the political waters toward the midterm elections.
- Have students create a website or information poster that lists the positions of each political party on key issues in the upcoming election. Select two to three key issues most important to voters and create descriptions that are neutral and just provide the facts. Then gather policy statements, speeches, or interview material that best represents the different party positions on these issues. Make sure you link the sources of the information on the website.