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The Politics of Elections

Over the years POV has featured a number of films about elections. This collection offers educators a range of our most popular accompanying content, ranging from lesson plans and discussion guides to interactive features.

Voter Registration

<strong>Election Day</strong> A film by Katy Chevigny/ Credit: Alan Jacobsen

A volunteer on the Pine Ridge Reservation
prepares to mobilize Native American voters
on November 2, 2004.
Credit: Alan Jacobsen

Voters across the country have had uneven experiences with voter registration, technology used to cast votes, resources at polling places. The documentary, Election Day, provides a unique snapshot of the voting process as it occurred in different states on November 2, 2004. When Election Day was broadcast in 2008, POV asked a roundtable of election experts: What's the one thing that you would do to improve the accuracy of, access to and efficiency of the election system in America?

Classrooms can use the film-accompanying lesson plan and discussion guide to study how the voting process differs around the country and to discuss issues related to elections administration.

» Discussion Guide: Election Day
» Lesson Plan: Improving Elections in the United States
» Web Feature: Expert Roundtable: Changing the System

Campaign Tactics

Cory Booker campaigning for Mayor of Newark N.J. against Sharpe James

Cory Booker campaigning for Mayor of Newark N.J.
against Sharpe James,
from the POV documentary Street Fight
Credit: The Star-Ledger,
photograph used with permission

Street Fight follows the campaign of Cory Booker, a 32-year old Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law graduate running against Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent twice his age, in the race for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. An urban David and Goliath story, the film chronicles the young man's struggle against the city's entrenched political machine, which routinely uses strong-arm tactics to hold onto power.

Because it chronicles the ongoing impact of campaign tactics, Street Fight is an excellent tool for outreach, even for those who already know the outcome of the election. The discussion guide and lesson plan are well-suited for use in a variety of settings and challenges viewers to think beyond a simple decision about who to support with their vote.

» Discussion Guide: Street Fight
» Lesson Plan: Street Fight

Political Representation of Minorities

Shirley Chisholm campaigning for president in 1972, in the POV documentary <strong>Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed</strong><br>Credit: Courtesy of Arlie Scott</br>

Shirley Chisholm campaigning
for president in 1972
Credit: Courtesy of Arlie Scott

In Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed, the first-ever run by a woman and person of color for presidential nomination was no laughing matter. Shunned by the political establishment, Shirley Chisholm was supported by a motley crew of blacks, feminists and young voters. Learn more about the history of political representation of minorities in the United States with the discussion guide and lesson plan.

» Discussion Guide: Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed
» Lesson Plan: Shirley Chisholm for President

Mr. Armstrong with flag in the</br> POV documentary <strong>The Barber of Birmingham</strong></strong>

Mr. Armstrong with flag in
POV documentary The Barber of Birmingham

The Barber of Birmingham links the struggles of activists of the past with a previously unimaginable dream: the election of the first African-American president. The discussion guide for the film provides background information on voting rights and the Civil Rights Movement. In the lesson plan, students identify and research participants in social justice movements or other types of movements or communities.

» Discussion Guide: The Barber of Birmingham
» Lesson Plan: Exploring the Heroes of Social Justice Movements

Georgie Girl

Georgina Beyer, in the POV documentary
Georgie Girl

In Georgie Girl Georgina Beyer, formerly George Bertrand, was elected to New Zealand's Parliament in 1999, becoming the world's first transsexual to hold a national office. Amazingly, a mostly white and conservative, rural constituency voted this former sex worker of Maori heritage into office.

The Georgie Girl documentary discussion guide and web features introduce a range of topics that will be of interest to anyone engaged in work related to LGBT issues and stereotyping of sexual minorities, relationships between different kinds of oppressed groups, what we expect from our political leaders, and the meanings and limits of diversity and equal rights.

» Discussion Guide: Georgie Girl
» Web Feature: Autobiography: Goodbye George, Hello Georgina

Getting Back to Abnormal

New Orleans Saints Fans, in the POV documentary
Getting Back to Abnormal

New Orleans is the setting for Getting Back to Abnormal, a film that serves up a provocative mix of race, corruption and politics to tell the story of the re-election campaign of Stacy Head, a white woman in a city council seat traditionally held by a black representative. Supported by her irrepressible African-American aide Barbara Lacen-Keller, Head polarizes the city as her candidacy threatens to diminish the power and influence of its black citizens. Featuring a cast of characters as colorful as the city itself, the film presents a New Orleans that outsiders rarely see.

» Discussion Guide: Getting Back to Abnormal
» Lesson Plan: Race and Class

Elections Abroad

Kazuhiko Yamauchi screams,<br>in POV documentary <strong>Campaign</strong>

Kazuhiko Yamauchi screams,
in POV documentary Campaign

The film Campaign provides a startling insider's view of Japanese electoral politics in this portrait of a man plucked from obscurity by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run for a critical seat on a suburban city council.

Classrooms can use the Campaign lesson plan to examine Japanese campaign strategies that are restricted and permitted by law, and then discuss how these activities could affect the strength of the country's democracy. The discussion guide provides background information on Japan's political system, the Liberal Democratic Party and the prime ministers who have held office over the past decade.

» Lesson Plan: Political Campaigns in Japan
» Discussion Guide: Campaign

Is it possible to conduct democratic elections in a war zone? The state of democracy, both Iraq's and the United States', is the focus of Laura Poitras's documentary, My Country, My Country, an unforgettable journey into the heart of war-ravaged Iraq in the months leading up to the January 2005 elections.

The lesson plan and discussion guide accompanying My Country, My Country can help viewers consider the impact of U.S. policy as well as the intricacies of supporting democracy in the U.S. and around the world. The POV website also features a special conversation on the war in Iraq between George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate, filmmaker Laura Poitras and Maria Hinojosa from PBS's NOW.

» Discussion Guide: My Country, My Country
» Lesson Plan: To Vote or Not to Vote
» Web Feature: Transcript: A Conversation with George Packer

Political Reporting & Polling Data

A film still from the POV documentary<br> <strong>Last Man Standing: Politics Texas Style</strong></br>

A film still from the POV documentary
Last Man Standing: Politics Texas Style

Political reporting by mainstream media is often about the race rather than the issues. And those reports are generally based on polling data. Our lesson plan What Do People Want from Politicians?: An Exercise in Information Gathering is designed to be used in conjunction with Bill's Run: A Political Journey in Rural Kansas or Last Man Standing. Each of these films profiles candidates running for state office from rural districts, and the lesson plan is designed to give students a sense of how polling data is collected, how collection methods can alter outcomes, and whether or not reports on such research are valuable news items or not when deciding whether or not to support a candidate.

» Lesson Plan: What Do People Want from Politicians?: An Exercise in Information Gathering

POV's archive of documentaries and related video is always changing. Find full-length documentaries you can watch free, on demand in POV's Politics & Government archive, including interviews with filmmakers and deleted scenes.


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POV documentaries can be taped off-the-air and used for education purposes for up to one year from the initial broadcast.

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