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Showing posts from August, 2016

Teaching the 2016 Election: Battle for Control of the U.S. Senate

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In most presidential election years, we pay abundant attention to the battle for the leader of the free world, with good reason. In 2016, with both major party nominees historically unpopular, it’s quite possible that record numbers of voters will choose to sit this election out. That’s unfortunate for a number of reasons, including the other contested contests down the ballot, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate in particular.

Republicans currently hold a 54-46 seat majority in the Senate. This is of course short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture to break a filibuster, but enough for control of the body and its committees. One-third of Senate seats are contested every two years, and 34 of them are at stake in 2016, 24 currently occupied by Republicans.

Therefore, Democrats need only a net gain of 5 seats to retake the majority, or 4 should Hillary Clinton win the White House and her Vice President Tim Kaine be positioned to…

Teaching the 2016 Election: The Electoral College, Part II

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
Teacher Mentor Liaison Barb Laimins has compiled a number of links and lesson plans to assist you in bringing the Electoral College into your classroom.

From the top, the National Archives provides additional background information on the Electoral College.

In this lesson, students examine the purpose, function, origin, and historical development of the Electoral College in order to gain a better understanding of how Americans elect the President. They then evaluate issues of fairness and representation with regard to the Electoral College. Finally, students participate in a class debate over the pros and cons of the current system.

Similarly, Gilder-Lehrman designed this lesson to explore how the Electoral College system functions in determining who will be the president and vice president of the United States. Students respond to a series of prompts and are ultimately asked to weigh in via a…

Teaching the 2016 Election: The Electoral College, Part I

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
We close our look at the presidential race this week with further exploration of the Electoral College. Its origins are rooted in the Founding Era as our Framers sought the proper republican balance between a popularly elected president and excessive democracy. Thus was born a system where citizens don’t directly select their president, but instead vote by proxy through electors representing each state (and eventually the District of Columbia).

Each state is awarded an elector for every House and Senate member in its delegation, meaning a minimum of three. California tops the charts with a whopping 55 electoral votes. With 435 House members, 100 Senators, and 3 electors for D.C, there is a combined total of 538 electoral votes. Thus, in order to win the White House, a candidate must accumulate 270 or more votes.

With the exception of two states, the candidate that wins the popular vote takes all of its electoral votes. For example, the mo…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Money in Politics, Part II

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
On Monday, we framed the issue of money in politics from both the perspective of both the First Amendment and its impact of democratic governance. We return today with a plethora of trusted resources to teach the complicated, yet critical subject of campaign finance in the context of the 2016 Election.

The Sunlight Foundation’s OpenSecrets.org has long been our go-to site for information on fundraising and expenditures for federal candidates. It offers a run-down of federal races by state, including Illinois’ Senate contest between the incumbent Senator Mark Kirk (R) and his challenger Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8).

In clicking on any of the contested congressional races (i.e., IL-10), OpenSecrets provides real-time data on money raised, spent, and current cash on-hand. It also includes a report on outside expenditures intended to affect the outcome of the race, distinguishing by the ideological beari…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Money in Politics, Part I

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In the modern era, running for public office is at least partly dependent on one’s ability to raise campaign contributions through an extensive donor base or independent wealth. There’s an adage that while campaign finances may not help win elections, the lack of them likely yields a loss. Given the assumption in political science that elected officials are primarily motivated in keeping their jobs, “dialing for dollars” is a daily duty in what has arguably become a permanent campaign.

The desirability of this practice is debatable, as is the extent to which money in politics tarnishes our institutions and the public policy outcomes they produce.

Are campaign donations:
A means to support candidates that align with our ideological goalsA means to gain access to elected officials upon gaining or sustaining officeAn implicit means of purchasing preferred policy outcomesAll of the above These questions are entangled in an ongoing debate ove…

Teaching the 2016 Election: The Press - Boys on the Bus

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
On Monday we established the pivotal role the press plays in shining a light on politics for the governed. It goes without saying that we must also develop a healthy skepticism of the material purveyed by the media, refusing to accept it as gospel, and leveraging the plethora of perspectives and information at our fingertips in the Digital Age.

Timothy Crouse wrote Boys on the Bus, an expose of modern campaign journalism in the context of the 1972 presidential election, and called into question the extent to which reporters offer information independent of the campaigns they are covering or the press pack itself.

Thomas Patterson has gone so far as to suggest that the modern presidential nomination process consists of winning the “media primary,” as the game of expectations established by the media arguably has more sway in the winnowing process than voters or party regulars.

Specific to the 2016 Election, the press as a whole repeatedly …

Teaching the 2016 Election: The Press - Our Portal to Politics

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to Edward Carrington in 1787:
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. From the country’s inception, newspapers, and the press more generally, have played an essential role in the birth and sustenance of democracy. It is through the media that we obtain vital information about our government, the issues of the day, and candidates for public office.

The nature of our press is in a constant state of flux, and we live in a contradictory age when information is more prolific and accessible than ever before, yet successive generations have seemingly turned a…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Parsing the Polls, Part II

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
In Tuesday’s post, we discussed the benefits of aggregated polling data, sample construction, and margin of error. Today, we’d like to delve further into survey respondents, wade into state-by-state polling averages, and conclude by showcasing resources helpful to teaching about public opinion polls.

When presenting polling data, we’re frequently asked about the increase in cell phone only households and its impact on survey samples. For example, 45% of likely Illinois voters exclusively use cell phones, while another 20% are mostly cell phone dependent. Only 17% are mostly or exclusively landline users.

The latter group skews older and whiter, making it unrepresentative. Therefore, we must dismiss polls that exclude cell phone users, yet also acknowledge the difficulty in reaching them with the norm to ignore calls from unknown numbers. More than anything, this adds yet another caveat to the exce…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Parsing the Polls

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In this era of Big Data, we are inundated with polling information, particularly during presidential election cycles. Each new national poll seemingly garners front page headlines and sends supporters of Team Hillary or Trump into ecstasy or a tailspin. How do we make sense of this noise for our own sanity, and most importantly, help our students comprehend this avalanche of quantitative information as Election Day nears?

First, it’s important not to place excessive emphasis on a single poll. True, some are conducted with better methodologies than others, but even the most carefully calibrated poll represents a point in time and a cross section of the electorate. The reality is that the latter is in a constant state of flux, and the only poll that matters takes place in real time on November 8.

Therefore, I prefer an aggregation of polls that minimize the effects of any single sample and demonstrate the trajectory of public opinion across…