TOPIC 1: Participatory Democracy

Activity 1: The Right to be Informed

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Discuss with students what they think it means to be an informed citizen. Focus on the responsibility they have to government. What does it mean to live in a participatory democracy? What do voters need in order to make good choices? 2) Have students read the items taken from the LWV web site. Ask them to discuss the kind of language that is used. What do words like accountable, responsive, and open mean? Is the US government these things? How and in what ways? 3) View debate clips. Ask students to identify differences between the candidates on the issues that are raised. How difficult or easy is it to gain information about the candidates from these debate clips?
  • Questions: What is the purpose of a presidential debate? How can citizens participate in government decision making? Why were there no televised debates between 1960 and 1976? What are the differences between the "direct effects," "agenda setting," and "uses and gratifications" theories of political communication? Should presidential debates be mandatory? Why or why not?


TOPIC 2: The "Public Airwaves"

Activity 1: The Government's Role

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Discuss with students who they think has the responsibility to decide what airs on television or radio. What belongs on television and what does not? What should/is television used for? What criteria should be used to decide? 2) Discuss with students the idea of the "public airwaves." Begin by asking them how broadcast signals are transmitted and how channel distribution is managed. Introduce them to the Federal Communications Commission by viewing the Minow interview on the FCC. 3) View interviews with Kraus and Watson. Discuss the status of television in American culture in 1960. 4) View the 1960 debate.
  • Questions: How involved should the government be in regulating what we watch on television? Do you think the television networks and corporations have a responsibility to provide free programs on issues and to candidates of political importance? Who should be responsible for sponsoring presidential debates? Why?

Activity 2: Equal Time & Free Speech

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Introduce students to the history of the equal time clause by viewing the Minow interview and reading the Broadcasting articles from 1960. Ask students about third-party candidates. 2) View the 1980 and 1992 debates and read newspaper headlines from those years. Ask students to focus on the participation of John Anderson and Ross Perot. Emphasize that every presidential election year many more candidates run than just the two party candidates. 3) Ask students to research third party candidates on the Internet, in the press, and by writing to third party campaigns. Have students present this information to one another.
  • Questions: Should all candidates who are running for president be allowed to participate in debates? Why or why not? What should the criteria be for deciding who participates? What is the significance of the equal time clause of the Communications Act of 1934? What is the role of the Senate Commerce Committee in supervising radio and television broadcasting?


Topic 3: The Election Process & the Right to Vote

Activity 1: The Electoral College

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Introduce students to the electoral college system by having them read the essay. Emphasize the difference between the electoral college system and election by popular vote. 2) View the 1996 debate that took place in San Diego California. Ask them to look for connections between the issues raised in the debate and the location of the debate. 3) Discuss with students why California and other big states are important to presidential candidates. What are the implications for smaller states and for campaign strategy? 4) Ask students to chart in press coverage of the 2000 election the impact the electoral college system has the way in which the Democratic and Republican campaigns are conducted.
  • Questions: How is the US president elected? Do you think this system is better than election by popular vote? Why or why not? Does the electoral college system give the advantage to particular kinds of candidates?

Activity 2: The Right to Vote

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Discuss with students their views on why voting is considered a "right." 2) Introduce them to the Constitutional amendments that address the issue of voting. 3) View debate clips. Ask students to identify and analyze how each of these debates might have been different had these constitutional amendments, either as a whole or individually, had never been passed.
  • Questions: What individual rights are established by the Constitution with respect to voting? Why was the government reluctant to make the right to vote universal in the past? Why do you think voter turnout has steadily declined since 1960?


Topic 4: The Presidency, Politics, and the Broadcast Media

Activity 1: Image

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) View debate clips. After each clip, ask students to identify and compare the characteristics of the image each candidate projects. Students can use a Venn diagram or chart to organize their comparisons. Discuss with them their ideas. 2) View interview clips. Discuss with students the history of the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 and how image played an important role in determining who won.
  • Questions: In your opinion, is a candidate's emphasize on image manipulative? Why or why not? What image do you find appealing? What kinds of characteristics would you look for in a candidate? In your opinion, do women and men convey different images? In what ways? What is the job of a "spin doctor"? How do they control a candidate's image?

Activity 2: Information

  • Other Resources: Newspaper headlines, 1988 & 1992
  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Discuss with students what type of information they would need in order to decide whether someone would make a good president or not. 2) Ask students to formulate the questions they would ask if they were members of the panel of journalists in a presidential debate. 3) View the debate clips. Ask students to compare their questions to the types of questions asked by the journalists in the clips. Are there differences or similarities? 4) Ask students to compare the questions asked in 1960 to the questions asked in 1988 and 1996. Discuss with them the differences and why these differences might exist. 5) Ask students to write and/or debate about the limits that should be imposed on the questions asked of candidates in a debate.
  • Questions: What kind of questions do you think should be off limits to candidates? Compare the questions asked in 1960 to the questions asked in 1988 and 1996. How are they similar? How are they different? How have our expectations of candidates changed since 1960?