Presidential Elections: Electoral College and the Swing States
High School: Grades 9-12
Subjects: Social Studies, Government, US History, Civics
Keywords: Electoral College, swing/battleground states, political forecasting, campaigning, Democrats, Republicans
Students take on the role of a political analyst, forecasting the electoral vote count for the next presidential election. In order to make a prediction, students are introduced to campaign issues, the Electoral College, the role of swing states, and the importance of political participation. The lesson plan includes a fun, interactive classroom competition where students make electoral predictions and compare with the actual results.
I. Understand the Electoral College and the breakdown of votes for each state
II. Become aware of key campaign issues and the different perspectives endorsed by the Republican and Democratic Party
III. Recognize the value of "swing states" and their implications in the current Presidential Election
IV. Understand the pros and cons of an Electoral College versus a popular vote system
V. Create greater interest in the next president election and the US political process as a whole
US map marking designated electoral votes for each state
Construction paper or color pencils in red, blue, light red, and light blue
Campaign information from various forms of media (newspapers, magazines, TV, Internet)
Users can create or join a group that records electoral predictions for the next presidential election.
1. Prior to the classroom activity, students should be given a brief introduction to the Electoral College and how it plays into the current presidential election campaign. Classroom discussion should be brief and mainly conceptional with the bulk of learning coming from student interactivity and presentations.
2. Below is a list of swing states (www.swingstateproject.com) that are characterized by switching Democratic or Republican platforms, although some tend to lean towards a certain party. The states in bold are major swing states that will likely tip the electoral balance in one party's favor for the next presidential election.
Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin
The teacher must assign a swing state to a student or a small group of students, depending on the size of the class. For classes with more than 23 students, two students can be assigned a 'bold state'. Alternatively, the teacher can ignore all the swing states except the bold ones; assigning a small group to each one.
3. Once a student (or group) has been assigned a state then the next task would be to research that state. A great resource for this is the 270towin website, and Wikipedia for supplemental demographic data. The focus should be on which party will likely capture the associated electoral votes. Students are to create a table or write an analysis on the following themes: electoral votes, issues, key groups, voting history, and demographic breakdown. Use the following example as a simplified guide:
Electoral Votes: 12
Issues: Large employers such as Boeing and Microsoft are concerned about WTO regulations and their ability to compete in a free enterprise market. National defense has been an important issue in the state where veterans live in large populations. A liberal-leaning population is interested in issues such as abortion, the environment, the economy, and Iraq.
Key Groups: Veterans; workers in high-tech industries
2012 D (56%) R (41%)
2008 D (57%) R (40%)
2004 D (53%) R (46%)
2000 D (50%) R (45%)
1996 D (50%) R (37%)
1992 D (43%) R (32%)
1988 D (50%) R (48%)
1984 R (56%) D (43%)
Demographic Breakdown: 93% White, 2% African American, 2% Hispanic
4. Each student (or group) must take the following information and current event information from news sources to come up with a best guess on which party the state is leaning towards. Students must understand that their guess, much like most political analyses, is not an exact science and relies heavily on calculated assumptions. Students turn in their assignment consisting of the above data, a general analysis, the decision on whether it will be carried by the Democrats or Republicans, and a brief explanation on their reasoning.
5. Hang a white map of the US in the classroom that outlines all the states. The states that are strong Republican and Democratic states (all non-swing states) should be covered with construction paper (or colored in) designating their party affiliation (blue for Democratic party and red for Republican party). Students will be given a lighter shade of a construction paper (or colored in) cutout of their state and will individually go to the map to stick the appropriate color (light blue or light red) based on their analysis. The teacher then tallies the electoral votes for each state and the map is titled with the class's prediction (e.g. Donald Trump X votes, Hillary Clinton Y votes).
6. The predictions, placed in a competitive context, encourage interactivity and helps promote interest among students. It is suggested that different sections or classes in the school create and record their own prediction based on a classroom analysis.
7. Following Election Day, students and teachers can log onto Politico's 2016 Presidential Election Results and see how their predictions compare to the actual results.
Classroom participation as an individual or group member in showing interest, communicating, and developing an awareness of the overall objectives of the project
Written assignment that clearly outlines an individual's or group's predictions. The paper should show a clear perspective on the thought process of how the student(s) arrived at the final judgment. At the same time, students should feel free to indicate areas where their assessment cannot be fully substantiated and allow for an "educated guess".
A general classroom discussion should follow once all students have made a prediction and the class has posted an electoral map. The discussion should revolve around current events in the campaign while also relating to the civic and historical aspects of the electoral process.
A bonus can be offered to students or group members with a correct prediction (or the closest one among the competing groups)
1. What do you think is the strategy of the Democratic Party in gaining swing voters while campaigning? The strategy of the Republican Party?
2. What makes this one of the closest presidential elections in US History? What other elections in the past have presented a similar scenario? What lessons can be learned from these experiences?
3. What is your opinion of the Electoral College? Is it outdated or is it still appropriate in today's context?
4. How does the Electoral College affect the value of a single vote in differing states?
5. How would an election based on a popular vote create challenges for pollsters and political analysts?
- Each student supplies his or her own electoral prediction based on a brief analysis of swing states. Students turn in a short explanation on why they chose a given state to go Democratic or Republican.
- Students are divided into groups. First, each student is surveyed based on a political platform (Democrat or Republican) that he or she would consider taking, based on personal views or family influence. Students that do not know or are apolitical can mark themselves as "Independent". Next, the teacher assigns groups based on the survey, creating an equal number of parties represented for each group (e.g. each group has 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 Independent). Groups are responsible for creating a map based on consensus and analysis from each member of the group. The activity simulates a non-partisan effort that forces individuals with different party affiliations to work towards a common effort.
After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College
by John C. Fortier
American Enterprise Press; September 2004
Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning:
A Reporter's Story
by Walter Mears
Andrews McMeel Publishing; October 2003
On the Campaign Trail: The Long Road of Presidential Politics, 1860-2004
by Douglas Schoen
Regan Books; June 2004
Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to
George W. Bush
by Paul F. Boller
Oxford University Press; June 2004
Why the Electoral College is Bad for America
by George C. Edwards and Neal R. Peirce
Yale University Press; August 2004