Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part VI: Finding Resources to Support Implementation or Learning from Defeat

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Our post-election public policy process journey concludes today with a piece on finding resources to support implementation or learning from defeat.

This series began by making the case for engaging students in the public policy process. Then, students are asked to define the problem they are seeking to address and explore possible policy alternatives that address both symptoms and root causes. Next, who in government can help solve the identified problem? These decision-makers must be persuaded and work within institutions with established calendars, a civics lesson in its own right. The media must be engaged throughout and viewed as a potential ally in student advocacy efforts.

Assuming success, it’s important to note that public policy wins are equivalent to battles, not the entire war. More than anything, they represent opportunities to get it right, as implementation is everything.

We live in a world of limited resources, and governments are more fiscally constrained than ever before in our lifetimes. This challenge is particularly pronounced in Illinois as we operate in a second year without a full budget, billions of unpaid bills (see below), not to mention an underfunded pension to the tune of twelve figures.

Source: Civic Federation

Both the Civic Federation and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability provide excellent analysis of Illinois’ dire fiscal straits paired with potential paths forward. Their work and this issue must serve as a backdrop for policy advocacy in Illinois, as there’s a reasonable allergy to unfunded mandates hoisted upon local government, schools, and residents.

Yet it takes financial resources to support policy implementation, necessitating creativity in crafting plans to “preserve victory.” For example, our #CivicsIsBack campaign constitutes a public-private partnership, with funds derived from Chicago-based foundations and corporations supporting our institutional partners, civic education organizations, and teacher mentors in a combination to deliver high-quality professional development opportunities and classroom resources to teachers, schools, and districts statewide.

Shifting gears, it’s quite possible that students’ advocacy efforts end in defeat in spite of them sticking to the script we’ve provided. Defeat represents a teachable moment and hopefully a chance to redouble efforts, accounting for lessons learned, in a later policy campaign.
  • Are there small victories that can be extracted like raising visibility or an issue or establishing key legislative contacts?
  • What allies must be cultivated in order to build a winning coalition?
  • And how critical is timing to success?
It’s important not to allow students’ frustration to stymie future engagement. Encourage them to keep their heads held high, and remind them that politics is a “long game.”

This constitutes our final post for 2016. Thanks for reading the IllinoisCivics blog, sharing it on social media, and for the hard work you do in the trenches to ensure that #CivicsIsBack now and forever. Wishing you and yours the very best during this holiday season and we look forward to seeing you back here in January as we renew our collective commitments to students’ civic development.

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part V: Engaging the Media

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

As we engage students in the public policy process, media outreach is a vital ingredient for victory, and the lessons learned are transferrable to lifelong participation in our democracy. It goes without saying that we must begin by building students’ appetite for news of all varieties, especially state and local coverage. Weaving current and controversial discussions of these issues into class is a proven practice and part of the new civics course requirement.

But students themselves can contribute to media themselves. Many are savvy consumers of social media. True, much of their activity is likely friendship-driven and perhaps tilted towards celebrity gossip. Yet social media is also a venue for interest-drive activities, some with an overtly political focus like #BlackLivesMatter. Depending on the issue students select, they may contribute to an already active social media movement, or better yet, create one of their own.

In our push for a civics course requirement, we used the #BringCivicsBack hash tag to coordinate advocacy and provide continuous updates to supporters. Upon passage, we switched to #CivicsIsBack, which has gone viral nationally to spread the good word about the civic learning movement, its epicenter increasingly right here in Illinois.

We must not discount traditional media in student policy advocacy. Scholastic journalism outlets serve as low-hanging fruit and coverage in a student newspaper or TV broadcast can help build broader movement for a cause within a school community. And local newspapers are hungry for stories of student civic engagement. Teaching students to write, disseminate, and follow up on a press release is one option, as is placement of letters to the editor in publications serving targeted legislators’ districts.

Favorable press coverage was vital to the #BringCivicsBack campaign. We placed two front page stories in the Chicago Tribune, were endorsed on the editorial pages of both major Chicago dailies, and had powerful letters to the editor run in a number of downstate newspapers. I conducted a number of radio and television interviews along the way, and found that reporters were cheering for our cause because they understood how important civic education is for news consumption and a healthy democracy.

We later compiled these favorable press clippings and shared them with legislators. It’s hard to say what intervention turns the tide in the successful legislative effort, but earned media is a net positive and something political insiders still privilege. It also develops a healthy skill set for students to deploy throughout life both personally and professionally.

We’ll be back on Wednesday to wrap up this series, focusing on finding resources to support implementation or learning from defeat.

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part IV: Persuading Decision Makers and Using Calendars to Achieve Goals

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In this fourth installment of suggested steps to engage students in the public policy process we’ll focus on persuading decision makers and using calendars to achieve their goals.

Graham and Hand’s America: The Owner’s Manual suggests that these steps be preceded by gauging and building public support for the identified cause, and we spoke at length in our second post of this series on how polling data can be used for these purposes. The authors also emphasize coalition-building, an admittedly lengthy process.

While it’s possible that students can build coalitions on their own, they may also want to research existing consortia already in place. In Illinois, we’ve been lucky to have the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC) since 2004. A core initiative of this entity from the beginning is Illinois Democracy Schools, a statewide network of high schools deeply committed to students’ civic development.

ICMC members and Democracy Schools in particular were critical allies in our outreach in the spring of 2015 to members of the Illinois General Assembly (ILGA) on behalf of a bill to require a high school civics course. One Representative rose prior to a floor vote to report that a social studies teacher had schooled her and convinced her to switch her negative vote in committee to a “yea” vote on the floor. Another Senator leaning against the bill “voted his district” after receiving a stack of letters from students (also known as constituents).

Bills of course begin in committee, and the ILGA allows Illinois residents to weigh in on legislation assigned to committees in each respective chamber by filing electronic witness slips. Slips may be filed for and against proposed statutes, therefore eliminating a common concern among educators of compelling student advocacy on behalf of a cause contrary to his or her personal beliefs. Committee chairs report witness slip tallies as a bill is called, and this sets the tone for the debate that follows. Students may also submit written testimony to the committee that is also acknowledged by the chair and inserted into the public record.

Finally, the lawmaking process naturally lends itself to discussions of institutions and specifically the legislative calendar. Under normal rules, a bill must be filed in the House or Senate by an identified February date each year (see this sample House calendar for 2016). It must emerge from committee in the originating body one month later, and pass the full chamber by the end of April. It then travels to the opposite house and must survive both committee and a floor vote by the end of session, scheduled for late May.

Assuming passage, the bill is sent to the Governor within 30 days, and he or she has 60 days to sign or veto it (Illinois Constitution, Article IV, Section 9). In the case of the latter, the ILGA may take the bill up in fall veto session, but needs a 60% vote in both chambers to override.

Beyond learning about government institutions, calendar conversations also entail legislative strategizing given Democrats’ control of both chambers, but a Republican Governor with final discretion over their work. Democratic supermajorities have been successful in overriding a couple of his vetoes to date, but come January, Democrats will be four votes short in the House, further necessitating bipartisan compromise in order to affect policy change.

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part III: Identifying Who in Government Can Solve the Problem

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last week, we tackled the first two phases of engaging students in the public policy process using America: The Owner’s Manual by Graham and Hand. We’ll continue today with the step that follows: Identifying who in government can solve the problem.

Recall that we previously asked students to identify an issue and research its symptoms and root causes. We later explored various policy alternatives, and now must identify who in government can help resolve the identified problem.

For students, this is often a lesson in federalism. While we tend to focus obsessively on national government, the reality is that most laws that impact us daily exist on the state and local level. It’s therefore likely that many issues students identify reside here.

If the potential policy solution is statutory in nature, attention turns naturally to the legislative body, be it the state legislature or city council. This is often a good opportunity to familiarize students with their local representative or alderman, who upon being contacted, may be willing to carry the bill on their young constituents’ behalf.

Another option is to do a word search for the issue on the legislature’s home page. For example, I searched for “civics” on the Illinois General Assembly’s home page and found a number of bills filed under this subject (see below). Not only will this allow students to explore a number of additional policy alternatives, but also to identify a potential ally for their own solution.


Preceding our push for the civics course requirement, we worked with two Villa Park Democrats, Representative Deb Conroy and Senator Tom Cullerton, on legislation to create a Task Force on Civic Education. The requirement was its Number One recommendation, so Conroy and Cullerton became our natural bill sponsors. They proved fierce advocates for the legislation, ultimately building strong bi-partisan majorities in their respective chambers.

The rest, of course, is history, as Illinois Civic Mission Coalition members proved vigilant advocates for the cause. We continue this story, and the arc of student engagement in the policy making process, on Thursday.

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part II: Defining the Problem and Gathering Information

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

On Monday, we previewed a series of posts centered on engaging students in post-election public policy advocacy. Using America: The Owner’s Manual by Graham and Hand, we’ll begin today with their first two steps in the advocacy process, defining the problem, and later, gathering information to persuade policy makers.

Illinois’ emerging social studies standards ask students to develop questions to guide their inquiries. In an undergraduate public policy class I teach, I start class with an ice breaker, asking students to identify one law they would like to change. This response becomes the problem or issue they explore throughout the semester, identifying the status quo, the causes and symptoms of the problem, and the range of views on the issue across the political spectrum.

For example, while advocating for the new civics course requirement in Illinois, we drew upon civic health data demonstrating that Illinois millennials were 47th in the country when it comes to voting regularly in local elections. Moreover, our young people rank in the bottom ten states when it comes to talking with neighbors, exchanging favors with them, and working with them to resolve community problems.

We thus concluded that our youngest residents were ill-prepared for civic life. Illinois was one of only eleven states without a civics or government course requirement for graduation, and mandated civic content was little more than window dressing in the form of the so-called “Constitution test,” Flag Code, and Pledge of Allegiance (see Section 27-3).

The problem thus identified, we pivot next to gathering information and using it to persuade policy makers. This may involve an examination of policies employed successfully in other similar jurisdictions and/ or research-based best practices.

Polling data is widely available on any number of public policy issues (and it’s fallibility in the 2016 Election is in many ways a myth). Two of my go-to sources are Gallup and the Pew Research Center. Unlike the prediction of electoral outcomes, the stakes are lower with issue-based polling. It can provide a general read on public sentiments and trends across time.

An Illinois-based poll that we used liberally for our civics advocacy efforts was conducted by our partners at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. They ran a question in 2014 on the proposal to require a high school civics course and found it polled incredibly popular. Cross-tabulated data demonstrated that the proposal polled well among both Republicans and Democrats, younger and older voters, and urban, suburban, and downstate dwellers.

We later used these favorable results to persuade policymakers, but that’s a story to be continued next week.

Poetry to Prose: Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In the aftermath of the 2016 Election, we’ve promised a pivot to the public policy processes and outcomes that follow. This post represents the frame through which we’ll pursue this work as we attempt to leverage the excitement and/ or fears of our students and translate it into the difficult work of democratic governance.

Illinois’ new civics course requirement embeds proven civic learning practices that align perfectly with teaching the public policy process, namely direct instruction on government institutions, discussions of current and controversial issues, service-learning, and simulations of democratic processes.
  • A deep understanding of government institutions is critical to engaging with them to affect policy change.
  • Public policy issues are by nature current and controversial. They are unresolved and members of our community may disagree vehemently about their very definition, much less available solutions.
  • Service-learning may assume direct or indirect forms, and also encompasses advocacy, much of which may happen within the confines of a classroom.
  • Simulations of the policy-making process in a legislative body, court system, or even administrative agency can illuminate the inner workings of government for our students.
Moreover, Illinois’ emerging social studies standards embrace an inquiry arc that begins by students developing questions. Later, they draw upon disciplinary knowledge and evaluate sources to answer them. Ultimately, students are asked to communicate conclusions and take informed action.

The inquiry arc mirrors the process of successfully engaging students in the public policy process. In the five-part series that follows, I’ll break down the template for civic engagement offered by Senator Bob Graham and Chris Hand in America: The Owner’s Manual.
  • Defining the problem
  • Gathering information to sway policymakers
  • Identifying who in government can solve the problem
  • Gauging and building public support for the cause
  • Persuading the decision makers
  • Using the calendar to achieve goals
  • Building coalitions for citizen success
  • Engaging the media
  • Finding resources to support the initiative
  • Preserving victory and learning from defeat
Elections are beginnings, not ends, and we invite you to join us on this journey to fulfill our professional obligations with respect to the course requirement and emerging standards. But more importantly, let’s empower our students to affect policy change whether or not their candidates of choice prevailed or went down in defeat.

Let's Do Democracy and Make Sure Civics is Woven Throughout Illinois' ESSA State Plan

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last month, I shared testimony provided to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan. My colleague Sonia Mathew weighed in separately on our work with Illinois Democracy Schools (see page 522).

ISBE has since issued its second draft of the ESSA State Plan, responding to more than 280 individual comments, 54 from organizations, 70 from students advocating for the arts, and 60 from librarians. This post represents a call for the state’s civic learning community to do democracy and weigh on the ESSA plan prior to December 27, 2016.

It’s fair to say that the second draft of the ESSA plan provides little more than lip service to the social studies and civics in particular. However, our collective work aligns well with the central thrusts of the plan.
Please articulate these points and your own personal touches in email comments to ISBE via their designated email address (essa@isbe.net) no later than December 27, 2016. If you’re able, we also encourage you to attend Round Three Listening Tour Sessions facilitated by ISBE. They began this week in Chicago and conclude next Thursday in Decatur.

We pursue this work at a time of disconcerting uncertainty. Federal education policies are very much up in the air, and the Springfield Stalemate has only added fuel to a challenging environment. The bitter 2016 Election and its still-evolving aftermath further underline the importance of our collective efforts to educate our students for democracy. It’s up to us to make the case to our state leaders on their behalf. Better yet, follow the lead of our friends in the arts and engage them in doing the democracy we all teach.

Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Recaps Voting and Campaign Spending in 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I had the great privilege of speaking with Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) just before Thanksgiving. We discussed her career path that led to ICPR, the work of the organization more broadly, an Illinois centric-post mortem of the 2016 Election, and how ICPR is poised to support the work of Illinois civics teachers.

Sarah’s involvement in politics began at the local level on the north side of Chicago, but she has since pivoted to statewide work at ICPR. Hear more about her career trajectory and the organization’s work in this opening segment of our interview.



ICPR manages the Illinois Voter Project, which offers breakdowns of voter participation by county and age cohort. It also demonstrates changes in party preference at the presidential level in Illinois from 2008 to 2016. Most striking is the transformation of downstate countries from competitive to strongly Republican. Chicago retains its strong Democratic orientation, while the collar counties continue to tilt towards the Democrats, at least in presidential election years.

Sarah offers further context on this project and analysis of the 2016 Election results in this second segment.



ICPR has long played a prominent role in deliberations concerning the state’s campaign finance laws. They maintain the Illinois Sunshine database, which provides access to information on money raised and spent by individual candidates and campaign committees.

The 2016 Election tested Illinois’ campaign finance laws like never before, and Sarah discussed potential policy changes moving forward in this third and final segment. She concludes with ways in which teachers can use the aforementioned and additional resources offered by ICPR in their classrooms.

Springfield Stalemate Prevails in Aftermath of 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last week, we broke down the 2016 Election results at the presidential level, also making reference to continued Republican control of the US House and Senate. Today, we’ll do the same for Illinois.

From the top, Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) handily defeated incumbent Mark Kirk (R-Kenilworth) for US Senate. This was one of only two pick-ups for Democrats nationally as the GOP retains a 52-48 seat majority. While Chuck Schumer replaces Harry Reid as Minority Leader, Illinois senior Senator Dick Durbin remains Minority Whip, removing him from a possible gubernatorial bid in 2018.

On the House side, only two of Illinois eighteen seats changed hands, with Raja Kristnamoorthi holding Duckworth’s northwest suburban seat (IL-8) for the Democrats, and Brad Schneider besting incumbent Republican Bob Dold in the adjacent 10th congressional district that has swung back and forth between these two candidates four consecutive elections. Schneider’s win was one of only six-to-seven net gains for Democrats, leaving Republicans with a comfortable majority heading into 2017.

The proxy war for Illinois Comptroller was won by Susana Mendoza, currently serving as Chicago City Clerk, but previously a member of Speaker Michael Madigan’s House Democratic Caucus. This was seen as a defeat for Governor Bruce Rauner, as he hand-picked Leslie Munger and invested substantially in her campaign. Mendoza will be seated in early January, and the manner by which she pays the state’s delinquent bills will be a key subplot to the ongoing Springfield Stalemate.

Rauner’s Republicans did chip away at the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate. The GOP had a net gain of four seats in the House, leaving Democrats with a 67-51 majority, but short of the 60% necessary to override gubernatorial vetoes. Republicans also picked up two seats in the Senate, but Democrats retain a 37-22 supermajority in the upper house.

The General Assembly convened last week for the fall veto session and will be back again after Thanksgiving. Recall that the six-month budget passed in overtime this summer expires with the 2016 calendar, and its resolution is required for Rauner to sign a short-term pension fix for Chicago Public Schools. Should they fail, the district will be out $215 billion in its current 2016-2017 budget.

Governor Rauner continues to push for passage of elements of his Turnaround Agenda, recently returning to worker’s compensation reform for one. In search of a grand bargain, he’s nominally offered to endorse a tax increase as a means to passing a budget in exchange for these non-budgetary reforms. Also looming large is Illinois’ terribly underfunded public pension system, now estimated to be $129 billion in arrears.

Both Rauner and Madigan are clearly playing the long game, eying the next election (now 2018) as the juncture when their party will ultimately prevail. However, it’s perfectly possible that the status quo will reign once more, and the state’s unpaid bills accumulate as we suffer through a second year without a budget.

Back to the Future: The Electoral College Strikes Again

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Monday’s post analyzed one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history and parsed the polls that predicted the opposite. Today we’d like to revisit the venerable Electoral College, back in the news after a sixteen-year hiatus.

The vote count continues, but as of this writing, Hillary Clinton claims a popular vote lead approaching 800,000 votes nationally, besting Donald Trump 47.8% to 47.2%. Trump, of course, leads in the only place that matters, the Electoral College, 290 to 232, with Michigan’s 18 electoral votes still outstanding but likely to be added to his column in the coming days.

2016 Election Results Courtesy of 270toWin.com

This dichotomy has occurred four times in our nation’s history, and twice in the last five presidential elections.

Conventional wisdom heading into November 8th was that Democrats had an Electoral College firewall that included the two coasts, selected states in the Mountain West, and most of the Rust Belt. This would protect against potential losses in Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. The firewall cracked in the industrial Midwest, propelling Trump past the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

Beneath the surface, Clinton ran up the score in blue states like California and Illinois, and closed the gap from 2012 and earlier in red states with large Latino populations like Texas and Arizona. However, at the end of the day, they remained part of the vast inland red sea.

The Democratic vote remains heavily concentrated in urban areas. This is a numerical advantage from the perspective that more than 62% of the population resides here, but its concentration in California and along the Eastern Seaboard makes controlling Congress, and prevailing in the Electoral College, increasingly difficult as the Republican vote is more geographically dispersed.

Parties are evolving coalitions, and every victory and defeat spurs a reaction. Democrats will likely lick their wounds and strategize on how they might win back the white working class vote. And Republicans would be wise to consider how they can better appeal to Millennials, communities of color, and college-educated whites as a demographic death spiral looms.

Split decisions like 2016 inevitably lend themselves to discussions of abolishing the Electoral College. This would require a constitutional amendment, and retiring Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has filed such legislation. Even without strong Republican headwinds, the prospects of its success are arduous at best.

A couple of more modest statutory reforms may also surface. They include states adopting the Maine and Nebraska approach of awarding electoral votes by congressional district, or the campaign for the National Popular Vote, where states agree to deliver their electoral votes to the popular vote winner once a coalition of states holding 270 or more votes emerges. Illinois is among eleven states that have already adopted this legislation, but prospects of further gains are dim in the short-term given unified Republican control of 33 of 50 state legislatures, and partial control in six others.

Conventional Wisdom and Polling Data Challenged in 2016 Election Aftermath

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Six days removed from the toxic 2016 Election, we are still left with lingering questions, in desperate search for answers. In the next several posts, we’ll attempt to collectively discover them, and encourage you to send along topics you’d like us to discuss.

One prominent question is how did so-called political experts, myself included, get the presidential race so wrong?

There is no single explanation, of course, but clearly the strength of Donald Trump’s candidacy was underestimated from day one of his campaign. Like President Obama in 2008 and 2016, Trump reshaped the electorate, consolidating the traditional Republican base while also extracting working class whites from the Democratic coalition, perhaps once and for all. In so doing, Trump altered the electoral map, weaving the Solid South with the Rust Belt, thereby neutralizing the bi-coastal strength of the Clinton candidacy.

In spite of Clinton’s well-funded and functioning campaign apparatus, her establishment credentials were anathema in another change election. The late-breaking revelation of further FBI scrutiny of her emails certainly didn’t help, and the all-clear arrived too late as the damage was already done. Clinton underperformed Obama among key demographic groups and turnout from the Democratic coalition was depressed in key cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

A related question centers on perceived polling inaccuracies. True, Clinton underperformed national polls that had her ahead by three-plus points, but her narrow popular vote margin falls within standard polling error. The most glaring misses occurred in the Midwest, where polls showed Clinton with comfortable leads in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She lost the latter three and narrowly carried the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They did pick up on Trump’s traction in Iowa and Ohio, and this correlated with his strength across the Rust Belt.

Polls are calibrated with predicted turnout models and some failed to account for depressed Democratic turnout in tandem with robust voting patterns among working class whites in rural areas.

Moreover, polling in the modern era is rife with difficulty on account of a max exodus away from landlines and a reluctance to answer calls from unknown numbers. There is also the possibility that some Trump supporters refused to reveal their preference to a pollster, but later cast ballots in his favor.

Finally, there was an unusually high percentage of undecided voters going into the final stretch of the campaign when the last polls were in the field. These voters broke decisively (3-2) to Trump on Election Day.

It’s far too simple to say that data lost alongside the Democratic (and perhaps Republican) establishment last Tuesday. Polls are mere predictions and were successful in capturing late momentum towards Trump. And the only poll that counts involves actual ballots.

Teachers Stand Tall During Time of National Healing

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Emotions in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election results remain raw, so my first post-mortem analysis will focus on addressing them with our students. Future posts will examine policy consequences, polling errors, and an Electoral College redux, but we teach in a deeply-divided state and country, and are obligated to build bridges with our students towards a better future.

In some ways, Illinois is an outlier in that it voted decisively for Hillary Clinton, isolated in a vast inland sea of Trumpian red. However, her 16-point statewide victory masks Donald Trump taking 92 of 102 counties, including massive margins in Southern Illinois. Thus, depending upon where we teach, our students may be jubilant or depressed, vindicated or fearful. Of course, this also holds true for their parents.

Courtesy of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

However, in the policy alternatives he has prescribed, revelations of past indiscretions, and statements and behaviors on the stump, Trump has threatened and demeaned women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. His victory must not give license for such words and actions to be replicated within our school communities, and we have a special obligation as educators to protect our most vulnerable students.

As friends, colleagues, and students have come to me in search of comfort, I have assured them that civil liberties have many safeguards. While Republicans will have unified control of the White House and Congress come January, Democrats retain the filibuster in the Senate. Moreover, it is not a given that congressional Republicans will uniformly rally behind a president that represents a significant break in party orthodoxy.

True, President-elect Trump will likely fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, but he or she must survive the threat of a Democratic filibuster, preventing a candidate outside of the mainstream of American legal doctrine. And Chief Justice Roberts himself places preservation of the integrity of the institution he leads above all else.

The Constitution itself defines these checks and balances, with the Bill of Rights standing as a bulwark for minority rights.

Most importantly, elections are beginnings, not ends. This remains a constitutional democracy, and it is the duty of the people to hold our elected officials accountable within these institutional parameters, simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties.

In this time of national healing, give yourself and your students the opportunity and space to make sense of what transpired and what it means for the future. Tuesday’s results predestine nothing, and for our students, our colleagues, our families and friends, and our country, we must lean in and collectively construct a more perfect union.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Election Day is here, and like me, many of you will have already cast your vote by the time you read this post, happy to check off this cycle’s thankless chore, having chosen the lesser of two evils. For even the most ardent of political junkies among us, instead of reveling in this great exercise of democratic governance, we’ll close our eyes after hours of election results and collectively exalt, “Good riddance.”

I’ve lamented before about the special challenges of teaching this election, so will pivot instead to the important work that lies ahead in our classrooms beginning tomorrow.

Tonight’s presidential outcome and control of the U.S. Senate promise to be closer than we anticipated even ten days ago. Many of our students and their parents will have supported or even voted for losing candidates. They may very well feel like doomsday has arrived. And many of their concerns and grievances are real.

But we cannot allow them to forget that the victors represent every one of us. I’m hopeful that olive branches are extended in tonight’s victory and concession speeches, as the peaceful transfer of power is one of the things that make America great.

Our founders were visionaries in designing a system where the sum of its parts is greater than any single leader. Checks and balances are well-established throughout our federal system, and divided party government is likely to continue in Washington and Springfield, instituting yet another protection against individuals and party platforms outside the boundaries of mainstream political discourse.

It’s incumbent upon tonight’s victors to build a bigger tent, where injustices experienced by communities of color are addressed alongside the economic anxieties of the white working class, where the retirement security of Baby Boomers is balanced with college affordability and employment opportunities among Millennials.

The challenges facing this country and state are too steep for the “us versus them” battles of this election and the dysfunction that preceded it to rage on. Therefore, we must reward our leaders for politically courageous acts, and vote those that place party or ideology above country out of office. And we must work hand-in-hand with elected and appointed officials from both parties to affect positive policy change as an exercise in self-government.

Whether we voted to “Make America Great Again” or concluded that we’re “Better Together,” the answer to our democracy’s wicked problems lies in our hands. As educators we play a profound role in our students’ civic development. In so doing, we empower them to build a more perfect union.

We salute you for the difficult work you have so faithfully pursued with your students this spring and fall. In an election without heroes, you, the great civics teachers of Illinois and the country, have saved the day.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Closing Arguments

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

We’ll conclude our extensive coverage of teaching the 2016 election with two final posts. Today’s will provide a late stage analysis of races up and down the ballot six days from Election Day. Monday’s post will address where we go from here as a country and as educators with our students.

Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the presidential contest, it has remained remarkably stable from a polling perspective. Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to prevail next Tuesday, but recent revelations related to her email server and leaked exchanges of top campaign officials have narrowed her lead. Her projected 3.7% margin over Donald Trump according to FiveThirtyEight.com mirrors that of President Obama over Mitt Romney four years ago.

Moreover, Clinton has multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes necessary to prevail, while Trump needs to thread the needle. According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s state-by-state projections, Clinton would win 323 electoral votes to Trump’s 215. The GOP nominee is within striking distance in Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada, but even then, Clinton wins 273 to 265.

Image taken from FiveThirtyEight.com

Trump’s best chance of picking up an additional state to prevail is in Colorado where Clinton is a favorite to win with 75.5% probability. The Trump campaign is also focused on Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but Clinton is favored in each state with 78% probability or more.

Polling errors are a legitimate issue and the race is close enough for Trump to retain a three-in-ten chance in prevailing. Remember that most polls have a three point or so margin of error, meaning we may subtract three points from the leader’s margin and add three points to the underdog, so Trump could conceivably be leading 48% to Clinton’s 45.8%.

Turning to the Senate, Democrats have nearly a two-thirds chance of regaining control. They need to net five seats (or four if Clinton wins), with probable pick-ups in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and narrower leads in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. Democrats are defending retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid’s open seat, but Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is ahead and seeking to become the first female Latino U.S. Senator.

On the House side, Republicans are highly likely to retain control, the only question being by how large of margin. The GOP enters with 200 of the 218 seats necessary for a majority considered safe, and another 25 leaning or likely in their column (this includes the 12th District in Southern Illinois). Thus, Democrats would have to win all of the true toss-ups (26, including the Dold-Schneider rematch in Chicago’s northern suburbs), the six seats considered likely/ lean Democratic, and eight of the aforementioned likely/ lean Republican.

Down-ballot in Illinois, the Munger-Mendoza proxy war has turned into a multi-million dollar mudslinging slugfest for the right to pay the state’s delinquent bills, while a handful of contested suburban and downstate legislative contests will determine whether or not Speaker Madigan retains a supermajority of Democrats vis a vis the Springfield Stalemate. Finally, the Safe Roads Amendment polls incredibly well, but good government organizations across the spectrum have questioned its wisdom (Better Government Association, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Civic Federation, among others).

Taken together, this teachable moment that is the 2016 Election has been one for the history books. As campaigns prepare for their final 72-hour push to the polls, its verdict lies in the hands of voters, including first time participants that we ably equipped to make informed decisions.

Veteran Reporter David Yepsen on Covering and Teaching Political Campaigns

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Following a conversation with Dr. John Jackson at SIU-Carbondale, I sat down with David Yepsen, Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and long-time political columnist for the Des Moines Register. David was long viewed as the dean of Iowa journalists and a critical gate keeper for any presidential candidate testing his mettle in the Iowa Caucuses.

David began by providing his own reflections on the 2016 presidential contest, pointing to high unfavorable ratings among the two major party presidential nominees. He also weighs in on the remaining work for each of them in the final sprint to the finish line in order to secure victory. I also asked David to comment on Donald Trump’s competitiveness in Iowa and Illinois’ likely preference for home state candidate Hillary Clinton.




David later pivoted to down ballot races, including the competitive Illinois U.S. Senate race and the proxy war among state legislative candidates in Southern Illinois between Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.




David concluded by evaluating media’s role as a gate-keeper in the context of elections and politics more generally. He suggested that teachers have a definitive role in developing students’ appetite for news, and through a diverse news diet, overcoming the echo chambers of this highly polarized, partisan era.




David is retiring from his role at the Institute later this month, and we are deeply indebted to him for his support of civic education throughout his tenure in Carbondale. Thanks to his leadership, together we have built bridges towards students’ civic development in Southern Illinois, embracing a cause close to the heart of the Institute’s namesake.

SIU Professor John Jackson Provides a Historical Perspective on the 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. John Jackson, Professor of Political Science, during a visit to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale late last month. Dr. Jackson is affiliated with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, a long-time partner of ours in bringing civic education opportunities to Southern Illinois teachers and students. He directs the Institute’s internship program, edits the Simon Review, and assists with its annual statewide poll.

Dr. Jackson has researched and written extensively about the presidential nominating process and party conventions, with a specific focus on delegates. He weighs in on the process across time in the following segment, and also provides an extensive retrospective on the 2016 cycle.




As Election Day fast approaches, Dr. Jackson comments on the road ahead for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in her attempt to persuade millennial voters that supported Sanders. He also draws historical parallels to 2016 cycle, invoking the names of Wendell Willkie and Hubert Humphrey.




In this final piece, Dr. Jackson shares how teachers can use Simon Statewide Polls. He also addresses the extent to which Illinois a blue state, and weighs in on a number of down ballot contests on November 8. He concludes with general advice to teachers about bringing elections and public policy into our classrooms.

Read the Fine Print for Road Funding Amendment

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

While legislative redistricting reform will not be on the Illinois ballot on November 8, a late-breaking, under-the-radar amendment to protect the road building revenue stream from encroachment by the General Assembly and Governor made the grade.

The language of the amendment, reads, in part:
“No moneys, including bond proceeds, derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles, or related to the use of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or to fuels used for propelling vehicles, or derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to any other transportation infrastructure or transportation operation, shall be expended for purposes other than…” transportation infrastructure or mass transit.
Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution permits the General Assembly to pass constitutional amendments by a 3/5 vote of both houses. The amendment is then placed before voters at least six months after this action, and either a majority of voters, or 60% of those weighing in on the amendment, must vote in the affirmative in order to ratify it.

Media coverage to date has been scant, but the Chicago Tribune did publish a front page story on the subject this week, and its editorial board came out against it earlier.

Illinois Public Radio also weighed in on some of the caveats related to the amendment.

As we’ve written previously, it’s important to follow the money in an election cycle awash in it, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has done us a great service specific to this transportation funding amendment. It’s fair to say that those standing to benefit from it most, namely road builders and labor unions, are underwriting the public relations campaign making a positive case for ratification.

In all fairness, the amendment polls incredibly well. According to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 80% of likely Illinois voters are supportive of the amendment and only 13% opposed, with 7% undecided.

More than 20 other states have similar constitutional mechanisms in place. However, assuming ratification in Illinois, this arguably further handcuffs the General Assembly and Governor as they return to Springfield for the fall veto session and attempt to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year while also grappling with pension reform.

Here’s hoping that we all do our due diligence with respect to this amendment, and it provides yet another teachable moment in this, the 2016 general election.

ICSS Fall Conference a Landslide Winner

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

The Illinois Council for the Social Studies (ICSS) held its fall conference last Friday at Harper College in Palatine. 144 in- and pre-service teachers attended, collectively casting their votes for this year’s election-oriented theme. They accessed a combined 32 breakout sessions, four of them featuring members of our #CivicsIsBack Campaign, including two led by our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors.

Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels paired with Boone-Winnebago Mentor Teresa Kruger for a session on current and controversial issues. Daneels later worked with West Cook Mentor Justin Jacobek (pictured below) on a legislative simulation surrounding automatic voter registration. Wayde Grinstead of Facing History and Ourselves, one of our core civic education organizational partners, presented a session on their Choices in Little Rock curriculum.


My own session was on engaging students with the public policy process that follows elections as a means of addressing the new civics course requirement and emerging social studies standards. Stay tuned for future posts on this topic, along with related professional development opportunities.

Cook County Clerk David Orr (pictured below) served as the luncheon keynote and proclaimed that “democracy is still an experiment.” His 25-year tenure, preceded by 11 years as alderman and seven-day mayoral term, has embodied this basic truth, attempting to expand access to citizens through common sense reforms like the student election judge program, same-day registration (SDR), and AVR.


For example, lost in the recent debate over the constitutionality of our SDR law in Illinois is the fact that many voters show up to the polls on Election Day fully believing that they are legitimately registered. However, many of us move between election cycles and fail to update our registration records. SDR provides a failsafe backup for those that forget.

AVR was vetoed this August by Governor Rauner, and Orr has since led vocal opposition to this action. He holds out hope for a veto override this November, and if not, to begin the effort anew come January.

The #CivicsIsBack fall tour winds its way to back to Charleston this week for the 37th annual History and Social Studies Teacher Conference at Eastern Illinois University. I’m slated to keynote, mentors Jim Hammer and Aubrey Hale will present sessions, and organizational partner Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago is leading a series of workshops.

While Election 2016 has been a time to try teachers’ souls, we are clearly rallying behind our profession and the critical importance of our collective work.

A Call to Educators' Consciences in a Campaign that Challenges Them and Us

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

When crafting the roll out of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign, we made a conscious decision to pair our course implementation efforts with the teachable moment that is the 2016 Election. There’s nothing like the prominence of and participation in a presidential election, and on this level, the current campaign hasn’t disappointed.

However, the campaign has defied convention at every juncture and tested pedagogical commitments to objectivity and non-closure of teachers’ political views. While we have written previously on these subjects, it would constitute professional malpractice to rest our case in light of recent developments.

At the presidential level, the 2016 campaign has been historic for both parties. A crowded Republican field of 17 contenders, paired with grossly disproportionate media coverage, paved the way for political novice Donald Trump to capture the party’s nomination over fierce establishment opposition. Trump has proceeded to realign the Republican Party with its white, working class base, using nativist and nationalist appeals that resonate deeply with a sizable minority of the electorate.

While the establishment prevailed on the Democratic side, longshot candidate Bernie Sanders had deep appeal among young voters and forced a photo finish. Hillary Clinton made history in her own right in claiming the nomination and is on the cusp of shattering the ultimate glass ceiling.

The two major party nominees are historically unpopular and the general election campaign has been deeply disappointing. Rather than focusing on the daunting challenges facing this country, the campaign has devolved into below-the-belt personal attacks.

From his campaign announcement forward, Trump has proceeded to offend, even threaten, virtually every fabric of the American mosaic. Therefore, instead of exploring competing plans for deficit reduction of entitlement reform, teachers are left to use the campaign, and Trump in particular, as a foil for the society we seek to create with our students.

We don’t abandon our non-partisan credentials when we speak out against bullying, gender, racial, and ethnic discrimination, or demeaning veterans or individuals with disabilities. Trump’s tactics are an existential threat to our national motto, e pluribus unum, much less our historically diverse student body. They must therefore be summarily rejected.

Moreover, empirical facts matter in the political debates that define our democracy. As educators, we must always bring our students back here, as ad hominem attacks are mere distractions.

Come the morning of November 8, we will allow the chips to fall as they may, and voters, eligible students included, should be encouraged to follow their consciences. But we must not forget that helping students shape these consciences is among our most critical responsibilities as educators.

Draft Illinois ESSA Implementation Plan Provides Opening for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of providing public comments at the final Illinois Statewide Listening Tour stop in Sycamore for the draft implementation plan crafted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as part of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I spoke in my role as chair of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), Illinois Task Force on Civic Education, and Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force. An excerpt of my remarks follow.
"...We are heartened by (ISBE’s ESSA implementation plan’s) emphasis on educating the whole child, opportunities for extensive teacher professional development, and specific acknowledgement of the value of mentoring programs like the one we created (to support teachers, schools, and districts with implementation of the new civics course requirement).

Ongoing needs with respect to course and standards implementation are as follows, and we invite further collaboration with ISBE in achieving them as part of the ESSA provisions:
The standards represent a paradigm shift for the social studies, moving from an emphasis on low-level content knowledge to higher-level skills. They center on an inquiry arc, where students develop their own questions, draw upon disciplinary knowledge to answer them, evaluate sources along the way, and ultimately communicate conclusions and take informed action.

This inquiry arc and the emerging standards as a whole align explicitly with English Language Arts Common Core State Standards, with the hope of reversing the ongoing marginalization of the social studies while contributing to student literacy as measured by school accountability instruments.

As recommended by the standards task force, teachers must have ongoing professional development opportunities to familiarize themselves with these standards and adapt their instructional practices and curriculum to them. They also need access to lesson plans and classroom resources aligned to the new standards, and opportunities to practice using them among peers.

The ICMC and its partner organizations are poised to assist ISBE with implementation of the new standards as we complete our commitment to civics course implementation. Collectively, we offer expertise in teacher professional development, extensive relationships with teachers, schools, and districts, standards-aligned curriculum and resources, and supplementary programming for students.

We look forward to further collaboration with ISBE as we work to educate the whole child, ensuring that Illinois students graduate ready for college, careers, and civic life.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part III

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

We conclude this three-part series on youth participation in elections by revisiting the second part of a quote from former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

“They don’t vote because very often they’re lazy, and they’re too busy playing with their little machines… They’re just too in tune with texting and not in tune with what’s going on around them.”

Having refuted the laziness claim, we turn next to “their little machines.”

It’s true, young people are almost universally using social media sites, but so are growing numbers of older generational cohorts.

Among all American adults, Percentage who use social networking sites, by age

And much of what transpires on social media is “friendship-driven” engagement, with few direct implications for democracy. Yet friendship-driven engagement has the potential of building “bridging” social capital, a foundation for civic engagement.

Moreover, a majority of social media users also engage in “interest-driven” participation, from posting online commentary to creating one’s own media, participating in an online game community or forum to using the internet to organize for a cause.

Each of these actions is not overtly political, but they all have the potential to be, and a small, yet significant minority of young social media users engage in what Cathy Cohen and Joe Kahne call “participatory politics.” Many of the aforementioned activities are directed towards political candidates, campaigns, or causes, and also assume an in-person dimension such as consumer activism, public protests, and poetry slams.

Cohen and Kahne find that youth engaging in participatory political activities are more likely to express interest in political issues and also feel capable of participating in the political process. Perhaps most importantly, there is striking racial equity on these measures as opposed to traditional forms of civic engagement.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we meet young people where they are; yes, Judy, on “their little machines.”

More broadly, in order to foster youth participation in elections, they must be afforded high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities like those prescribed in the new Illinois civics course requirement.

Youth should also have opportunities to participate in the election process itself beyond voting, including serving as election judges, passing petitions, and being deputized as voter registrars (Illinois law now permits each of these activities for 17 year-olds).

Finally, we must make the institutions of democracy friendlier for youth participation. We remain hopeful that Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly will revisit automatic voter registration, which will disproportionately benefit youth. We also encourage concerned citizens to rally one more time in 2018 to reform the legislative redistricting process in an effort to make our elections more competitive. Competition drives voter interest and turnout, especially among the youth population.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part II

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last week, we laid the groundwork for youth participation in elections. Today, we take a historic view of the subject, and then apply it to the 2016 Election.

Let’s begin with the notion that voting is unique when compared to other forms of civic participation like volunteering, contacting public officials, or keeping up with political news. It’s the one thing that most of us do (at least every four years) and it’s the most equitable form of civic participation. Moreover, it doesn’t serve as a gateway drug in that the act of voting leads to other forms of participation.

Since 18 year olds were granted the right to vote in 1972, youth turnout has always lagged that of their elders. Voting tends to follow a life-cycle effect, starting slow and peaking in the plus-65 population before leveling off late in life. Youth turnout does ebb and flow over time, as it does across the electorate, largely responsive to the competitiveness of a given election.

According to the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the high water mark in recent election cycles was 2008 when 51% of youth 18-29 voted. This fell to 45% in 2012, whereas it dropped off only slightly among 30-44 year olds (62% to 60%) and 45-64 year olds (69% to 68%). Turnout actually increased 2% among senior citizens (70% to 72%).

There are significant demographic cleavages among youth voters, with young women voting at a greater clip than men (48.6% versus 41.5% in 2012), and youth with some college doubling up those with none (55.9% versus 28.6%). Race is more complicated in that black youth eclipsed their white counterparts the past two cycles, but Asian and Latino youth lag significantly behind.

Source: CIRCLE's tabulations from the CPS Nov. Voting and Registration Supplements, 1972-2012

Specific to Illinois, youth turnout has fallen in tandem with the adult population as a whole as Illinois has morphed from a purple to blue state in presidential cycles. 43.8% of Illinois youth voted in 2012, trailing the 45% national average and ranking 30th among the 50 state and District of Columbia. Nationally, youth turnout in battleground states was 49.7%, but only 42.8% in non-competitive states. Thus, Illinois suffers from its deep hue of blue.

The good news is that youth turnout in Illinois was up 24% in the 2016 presidential primaries compared to 2008. 508,200 young people participated compared to 378,000 eight years earlier. Two-thirds of youth voters selected Democratic ballots, constituting 17% of Democratic primary voters, and a whopping 86% of them voted for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

It’s no secret that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has struggled to consolidate the youth component of the Obama/ Sanders Coalition. While Clinton is considered a lock in Illinois, youth are expected to be decisive in deciding traditional battleground states, including neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin, along with New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado.

Moreover, the outcomes of U.S. Senate contests in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire hinge on the youth vote, ultimately determining party control of the upper chamber.

Finally, while the Republican majority in the House appears safely insulated, youth are expected to turn the tide in several competitive races, including the 13th district in Illinois which encompasses college students from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois State University, and the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part I

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Over the past two months, we’ve tried to set the table for teaching the 2016 Election, beginning with the high-profile presidential contest. We kicked off with the party conventions, discussed the third party alternatives, and delved into the vice presidential selection process. Then, we parsed polling data, analyzed media coverage of the election process, shined a spotlight on money in politics, and untangled the Electoral College.

We then worked our way down the ballot, beginning with the fierce battle for party control of the U.S. Senate and a more politically insulated House of Representatives. Specific to Illinois, we did a post mortem on the failed effort to reform legislative redistricting, featured the special election for Comptroller, and weighed the prospect of ending the Springfield Stalemate through General Assembly races. On Monday, and throughout the series, we have provided educators with tools to teach the content, in this case the first of three presidential debates.

In the remaining seven weeks of the campaign, we’ll continued to tackle timely topics, but first want to frame the 2016 Election from the perspective of youth participation over the course of three consecutive posts.

The late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka claimed that young people “…don’t vote because very often they’re lazy, and they’re too busy playing with their little machines… They’re just too in tune with texting and not in tune with what’s going on around them.”

We plan to unpack and challenge these claims because they are misconceptions that lie at the heart of a problem we are desperately trying to unpack as civic educators: deep concerns about youth disengagement from the political process and elections in particular.

In a survey on likely non-voters ages 18-29 leading up to the 2012 Election, 43% said it didn’t matter who won because Washington is broken. More than three-in-ten (31%) felt that none of the candidates represented their views, and a quarter (25%) saw little difference between the two parties.

While one may be reluctant to call themselves lazy, this response didn’t rise to the fore. In fact, specific to Illinois, we have a trust issue between citizens and our government at every level, but it’s particularly distorted at the state level among Millennials. Recall that in order to participate in our democracy we must believe that we can make a difference and that government and institutions will be responsive to us.

The good news is that exposure to proven civic learning practices like those embedded in Illinois’ new course requirement can build young peoples’ confidence in their ability to affect positive change. This is indeed the perennial task at hand.

Future posts will examine youth voting in recent elections and its potential impact in 2016 through an Illinois-centric lens, along with the intersection of young people “playing with their little machines” and political life.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Presidential Debates of Paramount Importance in Too-Close-To-Call Contest

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison

We return to the presidential race in today’s post, setting the stage for tonight’s prime time debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Fifty-six years ago today John F. Kennedy squared off with Richard Nixon right here in Chicago for the first televised presidential debate in history. Kennedy’s triumph paved the way for the narrowest of victories on Election Night, and after a brief interlude, the two major party nominees have debated every four years since 1976.

Like 1960, the 2016 presidential election is too-close-to-call at this moment. It has tightened significantly since Clinton enjoyed a post-convention bounce, as she clings to a narrow lead in an average of recent polls, many of them within the margin-of-error.

A strong debate performance by either candidate (or a poor one) could shift the race by three or four points, allowing Clinton to open a more comfortable lead, or for Trump to inch ahead himself.

The candidates certainly present a contrast in style and substance, and a Super Bowl-size television audience will decide if either or both pass the commander-in-chief test.

Absent from the stage are Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, nominees of the Libertarian and Green Parties, respectively. Johnson came closest to qualifying, but failed to meet the 15% threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Unfortunately for both third party candidates, voters will see the bi-polar choice starkly on tonight’s stage and may ultimately settle for the “lesser of two evils.”

With the primaries, veepstakes, and nominating conventions in our rear view mirrors, the three presidential debates (and one vice presidential debate) stand as the remaining flashpoints in Election 2016, and perhaps the ultimate teachable moments. A few resource recommendations are certainly in order.
Now grab that popcorn (and bingo card) and enjoy tonight’s main event!