LESSON ONE: An Introduction to the Presidential Election

Tuesday, 1-19-16

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The Electoral College - What does that mean?

These days, presidential elections are very competitive—just ask George W. Bush and Al Gore, the two candidates who squared off in the 2000 election, one of the closest and most controversial races in history. Things were very different back in 1789, when war hero and Founding Father George Washington won the first presidential election held in the newly established United States.

In fact, Washington technically didn’t even have an opponent in that election! The framers of the Constitution just assumed that Washington would be the nation’s first President, and while 11 other people got votes, nobody actually ran against him.

At the time, each elector in the Electoral College could cast two votes—the person with the most votes was elected President, and the runner-up was elected Vice President. The final tally? All 69 electors cast their first votes for Washington, while John Adams received the second-highest number of votes at 34. Talk about a landslide! And that’s how George Washington and John Adams became the first President and Vice President, respectively, in U.S. history.

* Taken from BrainPop

DID YOU KNOW - Red and Blue States

Ever wonder why the Democratic Party is unofficially known as America’s “blue team” and Republican Party is the “red team?” Before 2000, there wasn’t a set color scheme for political parties. However, the use of colors to represent different parties goes back at least as far as the 1950s.

It really took off with the introduction of color television in the ’60s, when newscasts used them to denote which states had captured Democratic or Republican electoral votes. The colors were often different depending on which channel you were watching; during the 1984 election, NBC used blue for the Republicans and red for the Democrats, while CBS did the opposite. And actually, NBC’s color scheme made more sense to people outside the U.S. That’s because red has traditionally been the color of more liberal groups throughout the world, while blue has been the color of conservatives!

But in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush ran against Democrat Al Gore for President, all major U.S. media outlets agreed to use the same colors for the first time, going with red for Republican and blue for Democrat. Thanks to all the controversy surrounding the election—and the fact that you couldn’t turn on a TV for weeks without seeing those color-coded electoral maps—the colors stuck!

So keep your eye out for these colors in the media and on promotional materials, campaign posters, and candidate’s ties—we’re sure you won’t be able to avoid talk of “red states” and “blue states” in the next election!

*Taken from BrainPop

More Trivia about the Presidential Election

  • Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied for the same number of electoral votes in the 1800 presidential election, forcing the House of Representatives to pick the winner for the first time in history. Burr’s political rival Alexander Hamilton helped sway the House to pick Jefferson over Burr—this was one of the main causes of the famous duel between Burr and Hamilton four years later!

  • The modern Democratic Party was born during the 1828 election, won by Democrat Andrew Jackson. The modern Republican Party was born in 1854, with Republicans nominating John C. Fremont as their first presidential candidate. (He lost to James Buchanan two years later.)

  • The 1872 election marked the first time African-American men were allowed to vote for President, thanks to the passage of the 15th Amendment two years earlier.

  • After losing his bid for re-election in 1888, Grover Cleveland recaptured the Presidency in the 1892 election, becoming the only President in history to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back.

  • In one of the most lopsided presidential elections in U.S. history, Richard Nixon won re-election in 1972 by capturing every state except Massachusetts.

  • Women voted in a presidential election for the first time in 1920, thanks to the passage of the 19th Amendment that same year.

*Taken from BrainPop

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LESSON TWO: Primaries and Caucuses - What's the Difference

Tuesday, 1-26-16

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Introduction to Lesson

Choose BrainPop (@5 min) and/or Khan Academy (@8 min) video to explain Primary/Caucus. BrainPop is more elementary - Khan is a bit more detailed, but not as entertaining. Khan takes a lot more time explaining about Iowa and New Hampshire's place in the election.

How Many States Use a Caucus Rather Than Primary?

by Jennifer Mueller, Demand Media

Caucuses are lengthy, public affairs normally attended mostly by party insiders and activists. In presidential elections, political parties nominate their candidates at national party conventions. Each state's party members are represented by a number of delegates who vote at the convention. Fifteen U.S. states and territories use caucuses to select delegates for each party's convention, and four others use a mix of caucus and primary election. Each election year, approximately 10 percent of Democratic and 15 percent of Republican delegates are chosen by caucuses.

An American Institution

From the early 1800s, caucuses became the preferred way for parties to select presidential candidates. Those early caucuses were only open to high-ranking or elected officials within the party, but by 1830 movements began to open these early contests to ordinary party members. For years, most states used caucuses to determine their choice for presidential candidate. However, following the 1968 election, Democrats pushed to make the selection process more open to everyday citizens. Although most caucuses were open, in practice only the party elite attended them. In ensuing years, the Democratic party in most states switched to a primary election system, where all party members voted privately by secret ballot. Republican parties followed suit.

Bucking the Trend

A few states, however, preferred the traditional caucus system to the more open primary election system. While states with primaries have higher levels of participation among registered voters than caucus states do, proponents of the caucus system argue this fulfills the U.S. Constitution's intent. Retaining the caucus system rewards passionate activists and die-hard party members willing to take part in the often time-consuming process of selecting a candidate. Unlike primaries, caucuses are public affairs that may last several hours as selected party members speak on behalf of their chosen candidate.

The Importance of Iowa

Iowa's caucus has long been seen as important, in part because it is the first presidential vote in the country. In the 1972 presidential race, a little-known Democratic candidate from Georgia committed to intense campaigning in the state and won the caucus by a decisive margin. Jimmy Carter was thrust into the national spotlight and used the momentum from the Iowa caucus to carry him through to the White House. Ever since, Iowa has been a key state to establish momentum and set national perceptions about candidates.

Mixed Caucus Systems

A few states have developed mixed systems that use both caucuses and primaries to decide which candidate will receive their votes. In some states, the Democratic party holds a primary while the Republican party has a caucus. Others use more complicated systems. In Arizona, for example, the Republican party holds a primary first, then selects delegates at a later caucus. The Texas Democratic party divides its national convention delegates using both systems: 30 percent of the delegates are chosen through a caucus and the remaining 70 percent come from primary election votes.

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SO - What do you think?

The early bird might get the worm, but when it comes to primaries and caucuses, it’s the early states that get the biggest say in who gets to run for President!

There’s a simple reason why early-voting states have a bigger influence on the nominating process, and it's called the bandwagon effect. The phrase dates all the way back to the presidential election of 1848, when a circus clown named Dan Rice campaigned for Zachary Taylor from the back of a bandwagon (literally, a wagon carrying a small musical band)! Local politicians would jump on the bandwagon to show their support for Taylor.

This copycat effect works on a nationwide level in the primaries. The results of early elections influence how people in other states vote. Candidates who do really well in the Iowa caucus (the earliest caucus) or the New Hampshire primary (the earliest primary) tend to get more votes because they look stronger, while candidates who do poorly often drop out of the race altogether. Needless to say, this is unfair to voters in other states, since the race is often decided by the time they get to vote!

In recent years, various ideas to reform the system have been proposed. These include shortening the time frame in which primaries and caucuses are held; holding all primaries and caucuses one day nationwide; or holding four elections, one for each of four regions in which all states would be assigned. Each plan has its drawbacks, however, and so far none has gained enough support to change the system.

What do you think?

*Taken from BrainPop

Why are New Hampshire's Primary and Iowa's Caucus so important to the Presidential Candidates? Do you think it is fair that these two states have so much influence over the rest of the country? Was it always this way? What has changed and how has it changed?


In a group of 2-3 - Create a VENN Diagram with Caucuses on one side and Primaries on the other. Spend some time completing it. You can use these words/ideas and then add your own.