Answers to questions below should be typed and submitted as a single document on turnitin.com. Please do not include the questions in your uploaded document. As always, be sure to save the PDF turnitin.com receipt. Unless I make other arrangements, you are encouraged to discuss with a partner, but please do not divide up the work; every student should consider every link and answer every question below. Every student is also expected to submit their own original work.
- Activity #5 - Social Insurance Policy
- Activity #4 - Interest Groups
- Activity #3 - Political Campaigning
- Activity #2 - The Electoral College
- Activity #1 - The National Nominating Conventions
Social insurance and social welfare policies seek to improve the quality of citizens' lives. One of the goals of social policy is to protect citizens against social and economic hardships by creating a social safety net for all -- including the economically vulnerable -- whether through relief for unemployed workers, health care for the elderly, emergency shelter for the homeless, or school lunches for poor children. A government may address these issues through a) social welfare policies and/or b) social insurance policies. Together, these policies create what is often referred to as the "social safety net."
- Social welfare policies (otherwise known as public assistance programs) are redistributive, providing shelter, food and clothing, and financial assistance (direct payments), etc. to those in need. Most of these programs are available to citizens only on the basis of a means test that proves they need the help (hence they are known as means-tested programs).
- Social insurance programs offer benefits in exchange for contributions made by citizens to offset future economic need. Social insurance programs are distributive because broad segments of the population pay into and benefit from the system at some point in their lives. Social Security is the most important example of a social insurance program in the United States.
- Both social welfare and social insurance policies are considered entitlement programs. According to the Glossary of Political Economic Terms, an entitlement program "provides individuals with personal financial benefits (or sometimes special government-provided goods or services) to which an indefinite number of potential beneficiaries have a legal right whenever they meet eligibility conditions that are specified by the standing law that authorizes the program." In other words, if a federal law guarantees benefits to people who have paid a certain amount in taxes and achieve a certain age (as in the case of Social Security), then the federal government MUST provide those people with benefits, regardless of whether it has the funds to afford it -- unless the law authorizing the entitlement program is changed.
Step 1 - Social Security
The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program -- commonly known as Social Security -- was one of the signature programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" proposals of the 1930's, a series of measures designed to put the U.S. on a firmer economic footing in the midst of the Great Depression.
What is Social Security? Read the sections entitled "Introduction" and "How Social Security Works" in this document describing the Social Security system and its status in the contemporary United States.
- Why do you think Social Security is so popular?
- How is Social Security a "pay-as-you-go" program?
- Why is Social Security considered a distributive policy?
- When do workers begin to access Social Security?
The Impact of Social Security: Access "Social Security as Percentage of Income for Seniors" and the U.S. Budget - 2012 pie chart.
- How important is Social Security to retired persons?
- What proportion of the federal budget does Social Security represent?
- Examine the graph, "The 'Baby Boom' of the 1940s and 1950s." Fertility rate is the number of births per woman. What do you notice taking place in the United States between 1800 and 1940? What happens between the late 1940s and the early 1960s? Why do you think we call that the "Baby Boom"?
- Examine the graph, "The Baby Boomers and the U.S. Population in 1960, 1990, 2030." Compare the populations of persons aged 65 and above in each of the three periods. What do you find? Why does this matter to Social Security?
- Examine the graphs, "Life Expectancy at Birth Continues to Rise" and "Life Expectancy at Age 65 Is Also Increasing." How might this impact the Social Security program?
- Read the "Trust in the Trust Fund" section.
- Why don't a person's Social Security benefits "run out"?
- How do the wealthy technically benefit disproportionately from Social Security?
- Why was the Social Security Administration able to collect a surplus until very recently? What has it done with this surplus?
- What is the outlook for the Social Security program after about 2017?
- Examine the graph, "Growing Number of Social Security Beneficiaries" and "The Number of Workers Per Beneficiary is Falling." How does this data corroborate what you read in "Trust in the Trust Fund"?
- Examine the graph, "Social Security Income and Expenditures." What does the graph demonstrate? How might you define the "Annual Social Security Deficits" shown in the graph?
Where Do We Go From Here? Read "Dodging Bullets, Deferring Reform" in this document.
- Describe the proposals to address the Social Security challenge that would adjust taxes or benefits. Which one of these might liberals favor? Why?
- Describe George W. Bush's failed "privatization" proposal. How does this reflect conservative ideology?
- Describe reforms that go even further toward "privatization" than the Bush proposals.
- Review the last section of the Social Security article and examine the results of this poll by the New York Times (scroll down to the "Medicare and Social Security" section). What are the most popular reform proposals? The least popular? What are differences between party identifiers?
- Which of the reform proposals do you support? Why?
- President George W. Bush did not succeed in convincing a Republican-controlled Congress to enact his partial privatization proposal. Examine this political cartoon. What is the message of the cartoon?
- Many trains that are powered by electricity, such as subways and other rapid transit railway systems, are attached to a third rail that runs alongside the tracks. The third rail provides electricity, which powers the train. This is a good thing for trains. But for a person, touching the third rail means instant electrocution, or death by electrical shock. Some have said that Social Security is the "third rail" of politics. Why do you think that is?
Social Security in political cartoons
- Choose three of these political cartoons. Describe the message of each of the cartoons you have chosen. Explain how the elements of the cartoon support your interpretation.
Step 2 - Medicare
Another social insurance program in the United States is Medicare. Signed into law by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 as an amendment to the Social Security Act, Medicare extended health coverage to virtually all Americans who are over 65 years old or disabled. The idea was that workers would pay a Medicare tax (collected as a payroll tax, like Social Security) while they were healthy in order to receive medical health insurance when they retired.
Medicare has two parts. Part A pays for the insured's hospital stays, limited stays at skilled nursing facilities, home health services, and hospice care. Medicare Part B, for which beneficiaries pay a monthly fee or "premium" ($96.40 in 2008 for most people), helps (but does not completely) pay for doctors' services, outpatient hospital services (including emergency room visits), ambulance transportation, diagnostic tests, laboratory services, and a variety of other health services.
In 2003, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Modernization Act, which provided the elderly with prescription drug coverage under Medicare for the first time.
- Why is Medicare a distributive policy? An entitlement program?
- Is Medicare health insurance free? Explain.
- What percentage of the federal budget do Medicare and Social Security combined represent?
- What are the future projections for Medicare?
- Return to this New York Times poll. "Do you think it will be necessary or not necessary to cut back on government programs that benefit people like you?" and "If you had to choose one, which would you be willing to change in order to cut government spending?" Compare the results of the two questions. In what ways do they conflict? What differences do you notice between party identifiers?
- Recall what you learned about the future of Social Security. Why is it reasonable to say that the future of Social Security and Medicare are very similar?
Interest groups (also known as special interest groups) are organizations of people with shared policy goals that enter the political process at several points to try to achieve those goals. Like the news media, interest groups are examples of linkage institutions, which connect "the people" to the government.
This online activity explores the various ways that interest groups attempt to influence public policy. After an overview of interest group categories, the focus of the lesson will be on three categories of activity: direct lobbying, indirect lobbying, and litigation.
Interest Group Categories
Economic Interest Groups: These groups are focused primarily on their own economic self-interests. These include businesses (such as AT&T, Honeywell International and Microsoft Corp) and business associations (also known as industry groups) consisting of a number of businesses that have banded together (such as the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the American Hospital Association). They also include labor unions, like the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Finally, this category includes professional organizations - groups that represent professionals, such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Equal Opportunity Interest Groups: These groups strive to ensure the protection of rights for members of certain social groups. They include the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and EMILY's List (a women's rights group).
Public Interest or "Single-Issue" Groups: These groups emphasize a specific issue. They include, for instance, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council; consumer-protection groups such as Public Citizen; religious groups like the Christian Coalition; gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA); and pro- and anti- abortion groups like the National Abortion Rights League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life Committee.
- Which of the categories of groups above do you think have the most influence over the political process? Why?
- This table illustrates the extent to which different kinds of people in American society are represented by an organized interest group. According to the table, what kind of people have the highest level of representation? The lowest? Do you think this matters? Why or why not?
- Examine this data related to labor unions in the United States. What are the general trends?
- Examine the data in these charts. What categories of interest groups have the most influential political action committees? The least?
Direct lobbying describes efforts by members of special interest groups to influence policy makers. The term lobbying comes from 17th century England, where wealthy citizens would meet members of the House of Commons in the large anteroom, or lobby, outside the legislative chamber to encourage them to vote a certain way. Interest groups do still contact lawmakers directly, but they no longer confine their efforts to chance meetings in the lobby of the U.S. Congress. Nowadays, interest groups hire professional lobbyists with experience working with Congresspersons and their staff members. These lobbyists work one-on-one with lawmakers to influence government policy.
Step 2 - Professional Lobbying
Spending on Lobbyists: Click on this link.
- Describe the trend in total lobbying spending since 1998. What do you think accounts for this trend?
- In the menu on the left-hand side of the page, click on the “Top Lobbying Firms” link. What are the lobbying firms that make the most money?
- Click on one of the firms. What category of special interest groups are most represented by lobbyists?
- In the menu on the left-hand side of the page, click on the “Ranked Sectors” link. The list of "sectors" in the table is in order from most to least generous. Click on the top five (5) "Ranked Sectors." What do you learn about each of the categories? What industries spend the most money lobbying the government?
- Return to the "Ranked Sectors" link. Click on "Ideological/Single-Issue." Who are the biggest spenders on lobbyists in this category? Who spends the least?
- What kind of interest groups spend the most on lobbying: economic groups, equal opportunity groups, or public interest/single-issue groups? The least? What do you think accounts for this difference?
- How does this data compare to campaign contribution data from step 1 #4 above?
The Revolving Door: Who Are These Lobbyists?
- Read this article describing the revolving door phenomenon between Congress and lobbying, then write a definition of the revolving door.
- Why do you think lobbying firms prefer to hire former congresspersons and staff members?
- Have a look at the destination of "Former Members of the 112th Congress." What percentage of these departing congresspersons became lobbyists?
- Each member of Congress is given a staff. Also, each congressional committee has a staff to assist its work as well. Read and summarize "Almost 400 Former House Staffers Registered to Lobby in Last Two Years," which focuses on participation by congressional staff members in the revolving door.
- Go to pages 4-19 of this report about the most powerful lobbyists who are also former members of Congress. Read any three (3) profiles. How much money did these lobbyists' firms earn representing special interest groups? What kinds of interest groups do they tend to represent?
- This web page lists the industries that employ the most former government officials as lobbyists. What kinds of interest groups are most prevalent here?
- Read and summarize "While Candidates Decry Lobbying, Ex-Lawmakers Embrace It."
- Do you believe the revolving door phenomenon is good or bad for democracy? Explain.
Indirect Lobbying - "Going Public" and "Grassroots" Activism
Tech note: Except for the links labeled as "web," the files below are in the Quicktime format. If you have trouble with them, try this: (1) right-click on the link; (2) click "Save Link As," (3) wait until it has downloaded, then open the file.
Step 3 - Indirect lobbying, in which special interest groups use public opinion to put pressure on politicians, is one of the most powerful and fastest-growing kinds of lobbying. Indirect lobbying strategies include "going public," using media like television, radio and the Internet to promote an issue. Related to this is "grassroots" activism, or the mobilization of ordinary citizens throughout the country to contact their representatives and express support of a group's position.
- In 2010, the New York State legislature considering passing a tax on sugary drinks to encourage consumers to buy less of them as a way of addressing childhood obesity. The Alliance for a Healthier New York is an interest group composed of health care workers' unions and hospital associations. They mobilized an issue advocacy campaign to encourage lawmakers to pass the tax. The New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes is a coalition of restaurant and grocery businesses organized against the tax. What is the purpose of the ads? How do they attempt to persuade?
- The following web links illustrate indirect activism in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (a.k.a. Obamacare), published as the law was being debated in Congress.
- A group involved in the fight against President Obama and the Democrats' health care law was the conservative Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire David Koch of Koch industries. Check out this issue advocacy ad opposing health care reform by Americans for Prosperity. Here's another one. Describe the message of the ads? Are the ads effective? Why or why not?
- Another interest group, the conservative and business-friendly Freedom Works, relies on donations from some major corporations, including AT&T and Verizon, although it does not publicly reveal its corporate contributors. Check out this "Health Care Action Kit" put together by Freedom Works, an interest group that involved itself in the fight against the health care reform bill. In what ways does the organization suggest people can impact government action? How is this an example of grassroots activism?
- Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense was in the process of deciding which company would be awarded a $35 billion contract to build an Air Force refueling plane. The contest was between two manufacturers, Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). In the months leading up to the decision, the two manufacturers plastered Washington, D.C. with print and media ads. Here's an example of a print ad by EADS. What is the purpose of the ad? Having been published in Washington, D.C. news publications, who do you think is the intended audience? Do you think it is ethical for a manufacturer to promote government spending on their product in this fashion?
- Read "The Return of the Dirty Dozen" about the actions of an environmental group. This is an example of a "legislative scorecard." What does the article describe? How successful was the group in achieving its goals?
- The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has established this web page. Have a look around. What is the purpose of the page? What proposed legislation is highlighted on this page, and why do you think members of the AARP might be concerned about this legislation? How effective do you think the AARP's website might be in influencing legislation?
- Examine this list of the top 25 most influential interest groups in 2005, according to Fortune 500 magazine. Then compare that to this list of PAC's that contributed the most to candidates in 2011-2012. What do the most influential interest groups tend to focus on - indirect lobbying or direct lobbying? Why do you think some groups focus on direct lobbying, while others focus on indirect lobbying?
Step 4 - Interest groups often pursue their agendas via the court system. Litigation is the process of taking legal action, for example by suing a person, group or government body.
- Traditionally, matters concerning immigration have been under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Local and state law enforcement officers tend to have little to no role in determining the immigration status of persons arrested or stopped for questioning. However, concern over what many resident saw as weak federal enforcement of laws controlling illegal immigration from Mexico prompted the state legislature of Arizona to pass a law in 2010 that requires police officers, "when practicable," to detain people they suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials. The law also makes it a state crime - a misdemeanor - to not carry immigration papers.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been working to oppose this law. Read the ACLU's "About Us" web page, then read this description of actions taken by the organization against the law.
- What is the purpose of the ACLU? What kind of interest group is it?
- What is the ACLU doing in response to the Arizona state law?
- What are the ACLU's arguments against the law?
- Do you agree or disagree with the ACLU's arguments? Explain.
- Read the "About" and "Our Work" sections of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State website. Then read this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
- What is the mission of the AUSCS? What kind of interest group is it?
- How does the AUSCS pursue its agenda?
- What actions is the organization taking in the Atlanta area?
- This news story is about a court case involving how airlines publish their fares. What branch of the federal government is at the center of this controversy? Why was the lawsuit initiated? By whom?
- One option for interest groups interested in the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case is to file an amicus curiae brief. Latin for "friend of the court," an amicus curiae is a person or group that is not directly involved in a case before the Supreme Court but that offers written information or legal arguments in support of one side of the case. This web page contains documents related to the Citizens United ruling. Scroll down to the "Briefs and Documents" section. What kinds of organizations filed amicus curiae briefs for the Citizens United case?
- Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare. Read this article and summarize the actions of special interest groups before the Court reached its decision.
Special Interest Groups and the U.S. Constitution
Step 5 - The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
- Research the language of the First Amendment. Identify the parts of the First Amendment that protect the right of people to (1) speak out about political issues, (2) to publish information and opinions, (3) to organize into groups and (4) to criticize the government.
- Describe how each of these portions of the First Amendment protects interest group activities?
In this activity, you will learn about some of the most important ways that candidates for public office engage in campaigning, an organized effort to win the election by attempting to persuade voters to vote for them.
Step 1 - Video Advertising
Examine the following famous television campaign advertisements, being sure to read the historical context on the webpage to the right of each video:
- "Peace, Little Girl" (a.k.a. "Daisy") (Lyndon B. Johnson presidential campaign, 1964)
- "Morning in America" (Ronald Reagan presidential campaign, 1984)
- Willie Horton Ad (George H.W. Bush presidential campaign, 1988)
- Describe each ad, including the images, sounds, music, etc. that you experience as a viewer. What is the message of each ad, and how do the above help contribute to developing that message?
- Are any of the ads effective? Ineffective? Why?
Video Campaign Strategies
Following are a few strategies used by producers of campaign ads. Watch one or two examples (more, if you'd like) from each category, then answer the questions at the end of the section.
Tech note: Except for the links labeled as "web," the files below are in the Quicktime format. If you have trouble with them, try this: (1) right-click on the link; (2) click "Save Target As," (3) wait until it has downloaded, then open the file.
- Testimonial: Endorsements from celebrities and other well-known people. Example: Michael Jordan's endorsement of Bill Bradley for President; Senator Warner's endorsement of George Allen for Senate; any local celebrity or well known community leader's public endorsement of a candidate for office. Videos: Jordan | Mattingly | Huckabee | McCaskill
- Mudslinging: Often referred to as "attack ads," the TV, radio and print advertisements make assertions about the opponent in a variety of unflattering ways. Name-calling and/or groundless assertions about one candidate by his/her opponent. This advertising strategy is used by a candidate primarily to create a negative impression of one's opponent. This strategy may backfire and create a negative impression of the candidate who is responsible for the creation of the negative ad if used excessively, or in a manner that is perceived as false, deceptive, "tasteless" or "going too far." Videos: Mikulski | Gingrich | Anti-Kerry (web) | George W. Bush (Note: Can you spot the subliminal message?) | George H.W. Bush (web)
- Contrast: Juxtaposing positive images of one's candidacy with negative images of the opponent in the same ad. Example: Split screens with Hillary Clinton in color moving at regular speed and her opponent Rick Lazio in black and white moving in slow motion. Images of two candidates on screen as a voice over denounces the opponent followed by a red X appearing over the opponent's face. Videos: McKernan | Paulas
- Transfer: Use of popular symbols to create a positive connotation for the candidate or the use of negative or controversial symbols to create a negative connotation of one's opponent. Example: Positive: Ads that feature pleasant music, beautiful outdoor country or rural scenery, happy families, playful children, successful teams or businesses etc. Negative: Talking about an opponent's record with ominous music in the background, using black and white photos, visually shocking images such as oil spills, home foreclosure, car accidents, prison bars etc. Images of one's opponent in slow motion causing the eye's to blink slowly, thereby giving the impression of disinterest, laziness and/or intoxication. Videos: Newport Cigarette Ad | Pepsi Ad | Fife | Forbes | Original Apple "1984" Ad and Obama "1984" Ad
- Glittering Generalities: Usually the first type of ad used in a campaign, these spots are designed to introduce a candidate to the voters. Needless to say, like any introduction, these types of ads are almost always very positive. Designed to leave the viewer with a very good first impression. This ad type uses very vague words and phrases that have a positive effect on the viewer and appeal to a variety of interests. Example: Ads use images and phrases that are virtually impossible not to like such as: "Working for your family," "Building a Bridge To The Future," "Saving Our Schools," "Improving America," "Saving Social Security," "Building One America," etc. The images are usually of a perfect world with happy families and children in pleasant surroundings on sunny days with blue skies or images of the candidate hard at work, sleeves rolled up, actively engaged in conversation with people in a "responsible" business environment. Videos: McDonald's commercial | Castle | Kennedy | McCain
- Card stacking: Use of statistics, often in a one-sided manner; the omission of information that is crucial to drawing an informed and balanced conclusion. Example: 95% of citizens surveyed support Mrs. Jones for City Council; "Time after time, my opponent voted against legislation that would have supported new jobs in our community." Videos: Hardee's Ad | Macintosh Ad | Bumbers | White
- Bandwagon: This is an attempt to convey a sense of momentum and to generate a positive "everybody's doing it so you should too" mentality. Example: Voice-overs in commercials stating "Polls show Robert Stone leading in the race for the United States Senate." Large groups of people greeting a candidate or carrying signs in support. Group testimonials and/or corporate endorsements such as: "Endorsed by the National Association of Retired Persons," or "Endorsed by the National Education Association." Videos: Eisenhower (web)
- Plain Folks: An attempt by a candidate to appeal to the average voter as just "one of the people." Example: Lamar Alexander in 1996 wearing his trademark red and black-checkered shirt. Any candidate ad where he or she appears with no jacket or suit, shirtsleeves rolled up and/or wearing a sweater. Usually doing everyday task such as shopping at the supermarket or walking down a street or "visiting" with neighbors. Another technique that fits this category is one where the candidate does not appear in the ad, but "average" people on the street stop to talk about the candidate. The negative version of this would be "man on the street" interviews where the interviewees are critical of the opponent. Videos: Lehey | Mikulski | Snowe | Brown
- Describe four particularly effective ads from the examples above and answer the following questions for each: What was the message of each ad? How did the words, images, color, music, camera angles, lighting, people, and symbols contribute to the message of the ad?
Ads from the 2012 Presidential Campaign
Access the Stanford University Political Communication Lab website and examine at least three ads from the 2012 presidential election campaign.
- For each ad, respond to the following prompts:
- Does the ad fit one of the categories above? Why or why not?
- What is the message of the ad?
- Describe the language and tone of the ad. How do language and tone shape the overall message?
- How do words, images, color, music, camera angles, lighting, people, and symbols contribute to the message of the ad?
- Do you think the ad was effective? Why or why not?
Step 2 - Grassroots Mobilization
All of the following strategies involve making contact with individuals who may vote in the upcoming election. As such, they are known as "grassroots" strategies (the term grassroots, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as "the common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party, social organization, etc.; the rank and file").
Canvassing: Watch the "Canvassing in Ohio: A Typical Day for a Canvasser" video from the Obama campaign.
- What is canvassing?
- Would you ever consider canvassing for a political candidate? Why or why not?
Phone Banking: Listen to (or read the transcript of) "Phone Banks a Staple of Campaigning Since 1968" (National Public Radio), then watch the "Phone Banking 101" video from the Obama campaign and read "Mitt Romney Campaign's Innovative Phone-Banking Operation" (Huffington Post).
- What is phone banking? Who does the work of phone banking?
- How has phone banking changed since its early days?
- What are some tips to help make phone banking effective?
- What was innovative about the Romney campaign's phone banking efforts?
Direct Mail: Listen to (or read the transcript of) "McGovern Campaign Marked Beginning of Direct Mail" (National Public Radio), then examine an example of the Romney campaign's direct mail effort in Iowa during the Republican primaries.
- What is direct mail? When and how did it originate?
- Why was direct mail effective in its early days?
- Describe the example of Romney's direct mailings. Who was the campaign targeting in these examples?
- Do you think Romney's Iowa mailing was effective (especially considering the audience)? Why or why not?
Voter Registration Drives (a.k.a. "get-out-the-vote" drives): Read this description of a 2012 Democratic Party voter registration drive in Watsonville, California.
- What is a voter registration drive?
- Get-out-the-vote drives are an important part of the grassroots mobilization effort for both parties. Why do you think that is?
Candidate Public Appearances: One of the most important -- and time consuming -- activities for candidates is making public appearances. Public appearances include visits to state fairs, parks, college campuses, local restaurants and stores, etc.. It also includes appearances at campaign "rallies," organized events attended by dozens and sometimes hundreds of supporters -- as well as, most importantly, the news media, which reports on the event.
View this video of Obama visiting a New Orleans restaurant and this one of him having a beer in Orlando. Next, watch the first few minutes of this video of Obama speaking at a rally in Ohio (you can skip the short interview in the beginning and start at a little after a minute). Then have a look at this video of Mitt Romney serving ice cream and this New York Times "anatomy" of Romney rallies. Finally, examine this map plotting public appearances by Romney and Obama through September of 2012. (Click on the "Last 30 Days" button.)
- It is said that candidates for public office are very focused on their "image." How do the examples of public appearances above reflect that fact?
- Why do you think image is so important to candidates?
- What states saw the most visits from the candidates in the months right before the general election? Why do you think that is? What is the connection with the Electoral College?
Step 3 - Sloganeering
Most political campaigns feature some kind of official slogan. Browse this list of campaign slogans from previous presidential elections in the United States, then have a look at "Presidential Campaign Slogans, a Visual History" (The Week).
- What were some of the most effective slogans that you encountered in the linked pages above? What do you think made them effective?
- Slogans don't really tell you anything specific about the candidate's position on important policy issues. Why do you think they're so important in modern campaigns?
OPTIONAL: Some considered Barack Obama's 2008 campaign slogans some of the most effective in history. Watch this popular video from the 2008 campaign, which was based on Obama's "Yes We Can" slogan. Then watch "Yes We Can, But" (The Daily Show), a spoof of that video and the slogan on which it was based. Finally, read political scientist Larry Sabato's discussion of Obama's slogan in 2012.
- What do you think made Obama's 2008 slogan so effective?
- Obama was running for president for the first time in 2008. Why do you think most incumbent candidates (that is, those who currently are in office) would have a hard time using that kind of slogan?
- What was Obama's slogan in 2012? What does Sabato say is the intended meaning behind it?
- Do you think the 2012 slogan was more or less effective than "Yes we can." Why?
- What was Romney's slogan in 2012? How effective do you think it was?
Step 1: Examine this political cartoon.
- What is wrong with this map of the United States?
- Why are only a few states visible on this map?
- What is the artist saying about voters in the visible states?
- What does this say about voters in the invisible states?
Electoral College Basics
Step 2 : Read the "The Road to the White House, Steps 3 and 4."
- What was the original purpose of the electoral college?
- How is the number of electoral votes for each state determined?
- The Constitution empowers the states to determine the method of choosing electors. How have the methods changed over time?
- What is meant by the term popular vote? The electoral vote?
- What is the difference between a plurality and a majority?
- How many electoral votes are there in a presidential election? How many do you have to win to claim a majority?
- Why is the functioning of the electoral college at the state level called a winner-take-all system? Are there any exceptions?
- What happens if no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes? Has this happened before?
- How is this system similar to the presidential nomination system you just learned about?
Electoral College Controversies, Part I: Faithless Electors
Step 3: Access "Appointment of 2012 Electors for President and Vice President of the United States" (The Green Papers) containing information about how electors were chosen in each state. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom and read the information contained there.
- How are electors typically chosen in each state?
- How do the parties attempt to ensure that electors will remain “faithful”?
- Approximately how many states require electors to “pledge” their votes to the candidate who won the popular vote in that state?
Step 4 : Access the "Faithless Nine" (The Green Papers) page.
- Which is the most interesting instance of a “faithless elector”? Judging from the history of faithless electors, does this seem like a major problem?
Electoral College Controversies, Part 2: The Popular vs. Electoral Vote
Step 5: Read article on the Dept. of State website, "When the Electoral Vote and the Popular Vote Differ."
- In a few sentences, summarize each of the following historical cases in which the electoral vote and the popular votes did not match, including the outcome of the election: the election of 1824 and the election of 2000.
- How do you feel about a system of electing the president of the United States in which the above is possible?
Step 6: Read this piece on the Fair Vote organization's website.
- Summarize the findings presented in the article.
- How do you feel about a system of electing the president of the United States in which the above is possible?
Electoral College Controversies, Part 3: Unequal Representation?
- In which state (not D.C.) does a single vote in the presidential election (and the Senate) count the most? The least?
- How much does your vote count in Georgia compared to the largest and the smallest states?
- Is this unfair? Why or why not?
- Some criticize the electoral college system for giving states with small populations more power than they should have. How might they use this data in support of their argument?
Electoral College Controversies, Part 4: Red States, Blue States, Battleground States
Step 7: Examine this map, then answer the questions below.
- How many possible electoral votes are there?
- Name the three states with the greatest number of electoral votes.
- Name three states with the least number of electoral votes.
- What is the fewest number of states necessary to win an election (you might have to use a calculator)?
- Can a candidate win the election by winning only a small number of large states? Or a large number of small states? Or only the states in one region of the country? Or does a candidate have to have broad appeal across most of the country to win?
Step 8: Use the following map for reference when answering the questions.
- Access this map of the 2012 electoral college results, as well as this historical map of electoral college results (note the "Year" slide on the bottom lefthand side). Which regions tend to vote Democratic in presidential elections since the 1990's? Which regions tend to vote Republican in presidential elections since the 1990's?
- Have a look at this map of swing states in 2008. As you roll over swing states with your mouse, be sure to look at the "Previous Elections" table in the bottom right-hand side of the page, as well as the election results from 2008 on the left. You can also cross-reference using this map.
- Why are these states considered swing states?
- What are the biggest swing states?
- If you advised Mitt Romney in campaign strategy in 2012, how would you have used this information when campaigning?
- If you were Barack Obama, how would you have used this information in 2012?
- Think for a moment about voter turnout. You have learned that the vast majority of states have chosen a winner-take-all method of allocating electors for the winner of the plurality of the popular vote. Imagine a Democratic voter in a "red" state like Texas or a Republican in a "blue" state like Massachusetts. Why might these voters make a reasonable decision not to vote in a presidential election in those states?
- Why might voter turnout be highest in battleground states?
- Why might the electoral college encourage the existence of a two-party system? In other words, why are third parties almost always doomed to fail in the current electoral college system? (Take a stab at this question. If you have an idea, write it down. If you simply have no idea, that's no big deal.)
- This map from Politico reflects the status of swing states in the 2012 election.
- How many swing states did Obama win? How close was the popular vote in those states?
- How many swing states did Romney win? How close was the popular vote in those states?
- How many electoral college votes did all the swing states together have?
- How many electoral votes did the leaning or solid blue or red states have?
- At the top of the page, click on the "Predict Your Own Results" button and play around. What is the minimum number of swing states that Romney would have had to win -- instead of Obama -- in order to have defeated him?
Step 9: Examine the electoral maps on this web page.
- What are these maps attempting to show?
- According to popular discourse, there are "red states" and "blue states." How do the last few maps change that understanding of the American political landscape?
Step 10: Now, go back to the political cartoon at the beginning of this activity. Have any of your answers changed to the questions in Step 1? If so, how?
As you already know, the nominating conventions are where the presidential nominee of the two major parties are officially selected by the convention delegates, most of whom are pledged to vote for the winner of the primary or caucus in their state. In this brief online activity, you will learn a few more things about the nature and purpose of the national conventions.
- Describe the setting and mood of the conventions based on what you observed in the photos.
Step 2: Aside from selecting a presidential and vice presidential nominee, the national conventions are also the moment when the two parties officially adopt their platforms. Read this article from the KQED radio station (NPR), then examine the Democratic and Republican party platforms.
- Define the terms "party platform" and "planks."
- Describe the mood of the audience? How does the table on the last page of this handout help explain the mood?
- Describe the tone, style and substance of the two candidates' messages.
Step 4: You've already read this handout exploring the relevance of the national conventions in the 21st century.
- Describe trends in the national conventions' television audiences over the last few decades.
- What are some arguments in support of the continued relevance of the national conventions?
- Why do critics say the national conventions are no longer relevant?
- What do you think?