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teachers' guide: the choice 2000
the candidates

About This Guide

This guide is a supplement to the FRONTLINE program, "The Choice 2000." It presents a variety of questions raised by this film as well as some broader concerns about American political campaigns. While the issues in this guide are sure to spark student discussion, teachers should handle the activities with due regard for students' different political and moral commitments.

This guide offers a variety of options. We encourage you to select the activities that are most relevant for your classes. To maximize the use of this guide, we recommend that you review it before showing the video, select which activities your students will complete, plan which segments of the film they will view, and offer instructions to students as to what they should focus on as they watch.


"The Choice 2000," is a dual biography of the two men who hope to become the next president of the United States. The two-hour documentary goes beyond political rhetoric to explore how the candidates and their values have been shaped by family background, history, victory and defeat. By eschewing political pundits in favor of insightful, first-hand accounts from family and friends, "The Choice 2000" offers viewers - and voters - a chance to see these two individuals in a fresh light before the campaign reaches its climax on Election Day.

Films are a rich and stimulating source for instruction. For educational purposes, we suggest showing the video in segments of fifteen to twenty minutes. Pause after each segment to check for comprehension before continuing. Also, direct students to focus on one or two topics at a time.

In covering the lives of George W. Bush and Al Gore, "The Choice 2000" mentions prior substance use of these candidates. Teachers are encouraged to preview the film before watching it with students. The American Council for Drug Education website provides strategies for talking about drugs and drug use in the classroom.

Student Activities


Learning Objective:
Students will consider what voters traditionally look for in candidates, view George W. Bush and Al Gore in light of these criteria, and question if the traditional traits of ideal candidates are relevant in the 2000 campaign and beyond.

Previewing Activity:
Before watching the film, ask students to imagine an ideal presidential candidate. What is he or she like? What are his or her experiences? Qualities? Strengths? Have students generate a list of traits and write these traits on the board.

Then, present students with the following list of "ideal candidate attributes":

  • Has experience in office
  • Energetic and aggressive leader
  • Faithful to spouse
  • Forceful public speaker
  • Moral character
  • Talks about nation's problems
  • Honest
  • Younger than 60/65 years of age
  • Remains calm and cautious
  • Has solutions to problems
  • Served in the military

Compare the list generated in class to this list (which comes from research in political science). Do certain traits appear on both lists? Which ones? Why? Combine the lists and have students rank order the traits. Which ones do students regard to be most important? Encourage students to develop a list of just five traits. Which characteristics do students eliminate from the list? Which ones do they keep? Ask them if this is an easy process? Why? Why not?

Have students watch "The Choice 2000" and ask them to pay special attention to the traits of George W. Bush and Al Gore featured in the film. After watching the film, ask students: How do Al Gore and George W. Bush measure up to the traditional list of candidate strengths? How do they fare with the new list of five traits?

Ask students to imagine that they are living in the year 2024 and that one of them is now running for president. Which traits do they predict will be most important in the future? Will any of these traits become less important over time? Why?


Learning Objective:
Using the film, students will become more familiar with the life and times of George W. Bush and Al Gore, make observations about the similarities and differences between the two candidates, and discuss how the events of the past 50 years have influenced the candidates and American political culture in the year 2000.

As students watch the video, have them fill in the following partially completed timeline. Give students a few moments to look over the timeline before the film starts so that they have a chance to become familiar with the nature of the activity and what is expected of them. To complete this activity in just one class period, you may find it helpful to focus on a specific section of the film at a time (e.g., pre-college, college, or post-college years).

Note: The fourth column has been left blank. Use it to add your own category, such as global events, or for students to write in additional notes.



George W. Bush

Al Gore

US Presidential events


Childhood years




General Dwight D. Eisenhower elected president.




Nine year old Al Gore watches father’s attempt to campaign for vice president at Democratic nominating convention.



George W. Bush attends_______________, one of America’s most elite private schools

Al Gore attends _____________________ private school in Washington D.C.

John F. Kennedy elected president.


College Years



George W. Bush’s father runs for ___________and loses. George W. Bush enrolls in _________

University. Joins fraternity.

Al Gore enters _________ University. Runs for freshman office and wins.

Lyndon Baines Johnson elected president.



George W. Bush makes a decision about the Vietnam war. Becomes a ___________ in the Texas National Guard.


Americans torn about the war in Vietnam. Richard Nixon elected president.


Post-college years




Al Gore’s father runs for re-election in the __________ and loses (after having taken a stand against the Vietnam war). Al Gore marries Mary Elizabeth (Tipper) Aitcheson. Al Gore volunteers to go to Vietnam as a ____________.



George W. Bush earns a business degree from Harvard Business School, heads back to Midland, TX, to try his luck in the oil business. Becomes a landman.

Al Gore runs for ___________ and wins.

Jimmy Carter elected president.



George W. Bush runs for __________. Marries Laura Welch. Loses race to experienced Democratic candidate.




Ronald Reagan elected president. George H. W. Bush elected vice president




Al Gore runs for __________ and wins.

Reagan and Bush re-elected.



George W. Bush volunteers to work on his father’s campaign.

Al Gore runs for _________. Suffers a string of defeats and drops out of the race.

George H. W. Bush elected president.




Bill Clinton elected president. Al Gore elected vice president.



George W. elected _____________________.




Clinton and Gore re-elected.



George W. runs for president.

Al Gore runs for president.


After viewing the video, ask students to list the similarities and differences between the lives of George W. Bush and Al Gore. Encourage them to focus on such issues as: families, education, employment, experiences, personalities, etc. In what ways are the candidates similar? In what ways are they different?


  1. Political culture has been defined as the inherited set of beliefs, attitudes, and opinions Americans have about how their government ought to operate. Ask students to describe the characteristics of current political culture in the United States. In their hometowns. In their schools.
  2. How has political culture influenced students as individuals? How has it influenced their families?
  3. Encourage students to reflect on the connections between political culture and the lives of George W. Bush and Al Gore. How has American political culture affected these candidates?
  4. Has American political culture changed over the past 50 years? If so, how? If not, why?

Additional Activities:

  1. Have students interview eachother and individuals of different generations (e.g., a neighbor, a parent, a grandparent) about their first political memories. Hand out the following questions for students to ask of their interviewees:


What is your first political memory?

Does it influence the way you view politics? How? Why?

Did you vote in the last election? Do you vote regularly? Why?

Do you vote the same way the rest of your family votes?

Do you belong to a political party and vote along party lines?

Describe politics in your hometown? In your state? In the United States?

After students have conducted their interviews, ask them to compare and contrast the answers. Do they find similarities or differences across the generations? What might explain these similarities or differences?

  1. Break the class into groups and ask them to prepare presentations on different elections over the past 50 years. In their research, encourage them to make a list of (or locate) artifacts that were central to those campaigns. During their presentations, students should describe/present the artifacts and then explain how and why these items capture the essence of the campaign they studied. Why did they choose the artifacts they selected? What do these artifacts tell us about the political past? Ask them what types of artifacts they would choose for the 2000 campaign. What might the 2000 artifacts tell us about the political present? Have times changed? What are potential consequences of these changes?

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall (1996). Packaging the Presidency. New York: Oxford. This text chronicles political advertising in presidential campaigns 1948-1996 and provides an overview of the political landscape during these years.

Additional Activities:

  1. Ask students to develop a primer for an ideal candidate. What material(s) would they include in this book? What would it be titled? Have them present these basic textbooks to the class.
  2. Encourage students to create a piece of campaign discourse (a speech, a positive political advertisement, or a Web page) for either George W. Bush or Al Gore that stresses at least one of the ideal characteristics discussed in class. After they present their projects, ask: Which characteristic did you select? How did you package these strengths? How might voters react to this piece of campaign discourse?

Trent, Judith, Trent, Jimmie D., Mongeau, Paul, & Short-Thompson, Cady. (1997). The ideal candidate revisited. American Behavioral Scientist, 40 (8), 1001-1019. A study describing ideal candidate traits based on the survey results of 388 professional journalists and 734 citizens during the presidential primaries of 1988, 1992, and 1996.


Learning Objective:
Students will become informed about the problem of low voter turnout, debate a thesis advanced by some reformers to combat this problem, and contemplate how this solution could be applied to their communities.

Activity Background:
Many believe that a strong democracy requires citizens who care and are willing and capable of helping to shape the common agenda of a society. Participation, often measured through the act of voting, is increasingly viewed as an essential prerequisite of any stable democracy. The United States has on average the lowest voter turnout in the world among mature democracies. Because a government's very legitimacy is based on substantial citizen participation, the question of turnout concerns political theorists and practitioners, alike.

Introduce the problem of low voter turnout to students. Tell them the following:

  • In 1996, only 49 percent of eligible Americans chose to cast a vote for president. This is a 14-percentage point decline in turnout in presidential elections since it peaked in 1960 at 63 percent.
  • Turnout in congressional, state and local elections is typically under 40 percent, and in 1998, only 36 percent of the voting-age population went to the polls in congressional elections.
  • A Project Vote Smart study conducted in 1999 suggests that while 65% of 18 to 25 year olds intend to register to vote, less than half (45%) say they "definitely will" vote.

Several reforms have been proposed to increase turnout. One of these is to increase "social stimulation" (the interaction between campaigns and citizens) in the electorate. Consider the following data:

  • Voters contacted by just one political party pay more attention to all the candidates and to the campaign events reported on television and in the newspapers.
  • In every election, people who have been interviewed are more likely to vote than other Americans.
  • Married people of all ages vote more than people of the same age who live alone.
  • Much of the increase in turnout over a person's lifecycle is due to increases in church attendance and civic involvement.
  • In communities with the "Kids Voting project," adult voter turnout increased by an average of 3% and as much as 9% in some areas. That translated into nearly 80,000 more adults who voted in 1994 because of Kids Voting.
Drawing on this data, political scholar Samuel Popkin argues that to increase voter turnout, campaigns need to "make noise." In his mind, the interaction between campaign organizations and citizens must increase in order for voter involvement to increase. As he puts it, "the challenge to the future of American campaigns, and hence to American democracy, is how to bring back the excitement and the music" to contemporary campaigns.

Break students into groups. Tell them that their charge is to apply Popkin's thesis to their communities. Have them develop strategies to increase the interaction between campaigns and citizens in their areas (1) for all voters, and (2) for young voters. Have each group present these plans to the class.

Extension Activities:

  1. A variety of organizations have developed web sites that are committed to increasing civic participation among young voters. Have students visit and evaluate the efforts of some of these sites. If possible, encourage them create their own Web sites to promote civic participation.
Youth Vote 2000:
An organization committed to increasing civic participation of young citizens.

Rock the Vote:
A group founded by members of the recording industry encourages youth political participation and activism.

Third Millennium:
A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization launched by young adults in 1993 to offer solutions to long-term problems facing the United States.

Kids Voting USA:
A nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots organization devoted to "securing democracy for the future by involving youth in the election process today."

Project Vote Smart Youth Inclusion Project:
Project Vote Smart's web site has been praised by the American Political Science Association as the "best web site in existence"

  1. Have students interview local candidates as well as members of local campaign organizations. What strategies do these people use to "Get out the Vote?" What strategies have these organizations found to be successful? What stories can the campaign workers tell about attempts to connect with voters?

    Or, have students interview fellow citizens just after the election. (If it is possible, encourage them to conduct these interviews outside of polling places„e.g., local churches, schools, libraries, etc.). Have students ask citizens: What persuaded you to vote in this election? Were you contacted by a political campaign organization? By a candidate? If yes, did that contact encourage you to vote? Why? Where do you get most of your political information? Do you talk about politics with other people regularly? With whom?

    Have students write up reports on the findings from their interviews.

Popkin, Samuel (1994). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This text offers an analysis of how voters process information in presidential campaigns.

Schudson, Michael. (1998). The good citizen: A history of American civic life. New York: Free Press. Schudson provides an overview of models of citizenship in the United States.

Alliance for Better campaigns:
A web site "promoting political campaigns in which the most useful information reaches the greatest number of citizens in the most engaging ways."

Project Vote Smart General Population and Youth Survey on Civic Engagement (Summer 1999):
Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Project Vote Smart's results of a summer-long study of the nation's young people and their reluctance to vote.

The Vanishing Voter Project:
A project of the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard University to study and invigorate the American electoral process.

Democracy Net:
A public interest site for election information provided by the League of Women Voters Education Fund and


Learning Objective:
Students will explore the changing role of political parties in the presidential selection process, discuss the differences between the 1956 and 2000 nominating conventions, and reflect on the significance of these differences for the American political system.

Activity Background:
This activity is created to get students to think about the presidential selection process.

The role of political parties in presidential campaigns are particularly salient at two moments in the film: first, during the 1956 Democratic National Convention when Al Gore, Sr., attempts to campaign for vice president, and again, in the mid-1990s, when Governor George W. Bush courts the Republican establishment to consider his eventual run for the party nomination in the year 2000.

Political historians remind us that parties once served as intermediaries between voters and politicians by serving as a direct means of communication between these groups, by controlling the nomination of candidates, and by doling out patronage. Over the years, patronage has declined, and party reforms„as well as the proliferation of state primaries and caucuses„have limited the role of the parties in the candidate selection process. Indeed, now citizens have a more direct role in selecting their party's nominee. Political scientists refer to this shift as a movement from a party-brokered system (in which parties controlled the recruitment, selection, and nomination of a candidate) to a candidate-centered system (in which individual candidates build their own organizations, raise money independently, hire consultants, compete in party primaries, and use personalized appeals in order to earn their party's nomination). The differences between these two systems (captured in "The Choice 2000") can lead to an interesting conversation about the nature of the candidate selection process and its consequences in American political life.

Previewing Activity:
Begin a discussion about the 2000 nominating conventions. Ask students: Did you watch the conventions? What did you notice? What images were memorable? Were they peaceful or contested? Were they surprising? How? Tell students that unlike the year 2000„when the presidential candidates were selected in state primaries and caucuses well ahead of the late summer conventions„presidential and vice presidential candidates were once selected at party nominating conventions.

Inform students that the first national conventions emerged in the 1830s as a reform to the caucus system that had become heavily controlled by party machines and party bosses. While the functions of the nominating conventions have not changed in the past one-hundred and seventy years, political changes in the American body politic over the past 40 years have altered the scope of the conventions. For instance, the introduction and proliferation of political primaries and caucuses now allow citizens to have a say in the selection of their party's nominee. Indeed, in every election since 1968„when Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democrats at their convention„the nominees of the two major parties have been known well in advance of the conventions.

Prepare students to watch two sections of the "The Choice 2000." The first occurs in 1956, when Al Gore's father campaigned for the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic national convention. The second occurs in the mid-1990s when Governor George W. Bush courts the Republican establishment to consider his eventual run for the party nomination in the year 2000.

Have students watch these two sections of the Video. Encourage them to focus on the differences between party-brokered and candidate centered conventions.

Break students into groups and have them discuss the nature of the two conventions. Then, ask students in their groups to answer the following questions:

  1. What types of candidates were selected in a party-brokered system? What talents did they possess?
  2. What types of candidates are likely to be selected in the current candidate-centered system? What are their talents?
  3. Has the shift from a party-brokered system to a candidate-centered system changed the types of candidates who seek nomination from their parties? Who is nominated by their parties? How? Why?
  4. What are potential consequences of these changes?
Have students share the answers from their small groups with the class.

Sidebar: Televised Presidential Conventions

Advances in communication technologies during the 20th century have greatly impacted the nature of the conventions. Many dramatic alterations have come from television coverage. In brief:

  • In 1948, the parties experimented with televising conventions.
  • In 1952, both the Democratic and Republican conventions were broadcast nationwide.
  • In 1956, both parties amended their programs to better fit the demands of television coverage (officials condensed the length of the convention, adorned convention halls with banners and patriotic visual decorations, placed television crews in positions with flattering views of the proceedings, dropped daytime sessions, limited welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization proceedings, tried to conceal intra-party battling, and chose geographic host cities amenable to their party).
  • From 1956-1976, conventions were broadcast in their entirety. NBC anchorman John Chancellor regarded television coverage of the convention the most important event covered by news departments. Although ABC cut back
  • Since 1980, all news outlets have cut back on their coverage. Future airtime is expected to depend on the "newsworthiness" of the convention, which is largely determined by the perceived competitiveness of the two party tickets, as well as potential conflict or infighting within one party's nomination.

Sidebar: Political Parties

Invite students to brainstorm the functions of parties. After they have done so, add these characteristics (often found in civics textbooks) to their list. According to political scholars, political parties:

  • Have formed in every modern democracy in the history of the world.
  • Are not mentioned in the United States Constitution but have a long history in this country (dating back George Washington's administration).
  • Hold political conventions, adopt party platforms and nominate candidates for public office.
  • Facilitate elections, organize government, enable majorities to develop in legislatures and discipline elected officials.
  • Offer valuable time-saving cues to the electorate (to know that a candidate or elected official is a Democrat or a Republican is to have a valuable piece of information about that individual).
  • Promote civic participation by registering voters.
  • Represent groups of citizens (as organized groups they prevent the abuse of power by the already powerful).

Additional Activity:

  1. Encourage students to compare the process of nominating candidates in the United States to that in another democracy (i.e., Great Britain). How are the processes similar? How are they different? What fresh observations can be made about the system in the United States by looking abroad?
Choosing the President: A Citizen's Guide to the 2000 Election. Written by William H. Woodwell, Jr., for the League of Women Voters Education Fund. (Available from The Lyons Press, New York, New York, 10011). A thorough, nonpartisan and voter-friendly guide to the players and events of a presidential election.

Polsby, Nelson. (1983). The consequences of party reform. Berkeley: University of California Press. Polsby suggests that many of the significant problems of American government and politics today are rooted in how citizens nominate presidents and prepare them for office.

White, John Kenneth, and Shea, Daniel M. (2000). New party politics: From Jefferson and Hamilton to the information age. Boston: Bedford. This text provides an overview of the role of parties in American life.

Project Vote Smart's list of American Political Parties:

Links to party nominating conventions:
American party: http://www.THEAMERICANPARTY.ORG/american/apnatlconv/
Democratic party:
Libertarian party:
Republican party:
Socialist party:


Learning Objective:
Students will examine the nature of campaign web sites, visit the sites of the presidential candidates, and contemplate the future of virtual politics.

Activity Background:
The Internet has captured the attention of citizens, candidates, and elected officials. As a new communications technology, it has the potential to change politics in the United States as we know it. In the year 2000, there are more questions than answers about politics on the Internet. Early research on this topic, however, has produced the following observations about the nature of online politics. Specifically, those who have examined official candidate sites suggest that:

  • Campaign Web sites are predominately positive and largely devoid of adversarial statements about other officials, parties or issues.
  • Campaign Web sites feature data not covered by other media. Almost all campaign sites contain links to recent speeches, press releases, political advertisements and issue statements-information that was previously out of reach to many Americans.
  • Many campaign sites allow citizens to join campaign mailing lists and receive electronic messages and updates from the campaign.
  • For citizens with access, political Web sites are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Incumbent candidates are less likely than challengers to have campaign web sites.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the on-line public (64%) trusts the information it finds about candidates on the Internet.
Share these findings with students. Then, have them visit the presidential campaign sites and take notes of the materials on these sites: (, After they have visited the web pages, ask students the following questions: What materials appear on the campaign sites? Do these materials surprise you? Why? How does the information on these sites compare to they types of information found on television, on radio, and in newspapers? Pretend for a moment that a person received all of his or her political information from these sites. What would this person know? Not know? What would he or she think of politics? Would this person be more or less cynical than people who get their information from a variety of sources (television, radio, newspapers, etc.)? Would this person be more or less inclined to participate in politics than someone who gets their information from a variety of sources? Do you think that there is a relationship between the potential accessibility of these sites and the likelihood that a person would visit one? How come? Why?

Candidates and campaigns have placed a great amount of political information on the Internet. Encourage students to consider the potential effects of these political Web sites. Ask them to take a stand on the following questions:

  • Are the citizens of the United States a more informed citizenry as a result of these Web sites? Why or why not?
  • Are the citizens of the United States more interested in politics as a result of these Web sites? Why or why not?
  • Is it easy to determine factual statements from opinionated ones on political Web sites? Why or why not?
Additional Activity:
In addition to government, campaign and nonprofit sites, several "for profit" organizations have launched Web pages that increase the amount of political information available on line. Have students visit these sites and comment on the "intended audiences" for these pages. Who were they created for? What do they add to the 2000 campaign? Why were they created? What does the existence of these sites tell us about our political culture?

For-profit site created exclusively to educate and empower the voter
For-profit participation site/ online opinion research company
For-profit site created to educate and empower the voter
For-profit site developed to give Internet users a voice on important public issues and other topics

The CHOICE 2000 Teacher's Guide was written by Professor Sharon Jarvis of the University of Texas, Austin, and developed with input from the following advisors:

Amy E. Tarasovic
Managing Editor, Academic Publications
Close Up Publishing

Mary Ellen Sorensen
Board of Directors
National Council for the Socials Studies

Margaret R. Brown
1st Vice President, League of Women Voters of the United States and Vice Chair, League of Women Voters Education Fund

Michelle McVicker
Educational Outreach Coordinator, Nashville Public Television

Simone Bloom Nathan, EdM and Anne Kaplan, MA
Media Education Consultants

Jessica Smith

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