Classroom Resources to #Teach2020

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Last week, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation's Democracy Program, hosted the third in a series of spring webinars designed to connect educators with content and resources to #teach2020. Among the topics Dr. Healy addressed were a retrospective of the Illinois primary, remaining primaries and caucuses, the coming veepstakes, and various electoral college scenarios in November. Did you miss it? Educators are welcome to access a recording of the one hour webinar.

Registration is now open for our next webinar on May 12th from 3:45-4:30 will examine, “Does the Progressive Tax Add Up for Illinois?” In this session, Dr. Healy will examine the referendum on the Illinois Fair Tax, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would change the state income tax system from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.

Throughout our #Teach2020 series, we concluded each webinar with resources and ideas for teachers to use in their classroom to support the proven practices of civic education in this teachable moment. We collected these ideas in our new Election 2020 Toolkit which provides classrooms with content to help understand:
  • Why Vote?
  • Why Engage Students in Voting and Elections?
  • The Nomination Process
  • The General Election and Electoral College
  • Initiatives and Referendums
  • Information Literacy Related to Elections
  • Researching Candidates
  • Historical Contexts of Elections
  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Elections
There are also a plethora of ideas and strategies in the toolkit to support the use of current and societal issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and service-learning during the election season.

What are you doing to #Teach2020? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

What Kind of Citizen during a Pandemic?

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Last week, I had the privilege of talking about putting civics in the middle with some of the hosts of #sschat on the Talking Social Studies podcast. Our brief conversation was wide-ranging but ultimately led to how we can foster student civic engagement, even during a pandemic.

Using the paradigm outlined in What Kind of Citizen? by Joe Kahne and Joel Westheimer, we discussed the three descriptions of the “good” citizen” — personally responsible, participatory, and justice-oriented citizens outlined in the journal article and what they might look like for students in a pandemic to foster authentic civic action.

To review the main ideas of Kahne and Westheimer’s work:
  • Many schools foster the personally responsible citizen through Character Counts and community service initiatives. Students are given opportunities to be personally responsible as an individual by recycling, donating items to the school food drive, or donating blood to name a few examples.
  • Other schools go a step further and foster participatory citizenship. Students have opportunities to be active members of civil society through clubs or class efforts and engage with their school and local communities by organizing collective efforts. These are the students who run the blood drive, receive and deliver items from the holiday food drive, and collect and sort the recycling from classrooms.
  • Justice-oriented citizenship is rare, but powerful. In this realm, as part of civic inquiry around essential questions in the classroom, students critically analyze problems to identify “root causes,” as well as seek out and address areas of injustice to effect systemic change. In the midst of a food drive, these students take a step back and ask, “Why are people hungry in our community? What civic action can we take to address the root causes of hunger?”

Each type of citizen is important to the functioning of our republic. We need to feed people while we address the root causes of hunger. But to elevate one type of citizen to the exclusion of the others is a political choice with political consequences.

During this pandemic, there are a plethora of resources available to help students explore the impact of COVID-19. However, the danger of solely having students “take the temperature” of the world around them to identify current and societal issues is that it only raises awareness. As educators, we must help them build efficacy to be personally responsible and participate with their community to “change the temperature.” As I shared with the Talking Social Studies hosts, we must help students go beyond being a thermometer that takes the temperature, providing opportunities for them to be thermostats to change the temperature, fostering the proven practice of service learning through informed action.

What might these civic opportunities to move students from thermometers to thermostats look like in a remote learning environment? Here are some ideas.
  • If you are encouraging students to follow CDC guidelines to help #flattenthe curve, you are helping foster personally responsible citizens. It will take all of us to practice social distancing and healthy habits to bring an end to COVID-19. Our Illinois Civics Continuity of Learning tool kit shares best practices in distance resources that you can share with both students and their families to be personally responsible citizens.
  • As an educator, you can foster participatory citizenship by putting Maslow before Bloom in your interactions with students. Create a safe space for students to process current events together. Prioritize and foster civic dispositions like empathy, commitment to the common good, and community involvement during this pandemic. Much of this work is related to Social Emotional Learning competencies. Alia Blumelein, an Illinois Civics regional civics instructional coach, has SEL e-learning every Friday with her students with opportunities for them to interact with civil society in positive ways.
  • In a recent #CivicsInTheMiddle newsletter, I shared how to engage student voice through journaling for informed action. You and your students are living through history right now. Consider having them keep a journal of their observations, questions, experiences, and challenges. Students can express their lived experiences in words, images, or another medium. They are writing the history others will learn from. In the short run, this can be an important formative assessment tool for you to use to calibrate your teaching. In the long run, these lived experiences can help your students be justice-oriented citizens and take informed action to inform civil society and policymakers in adjusting protocols. This Root Cause Tree tool shared by the Teaching Channels’ Educating for Democracy in a Digital Age can be used to process student observations to plan for justice-oriented civic action.
What kind of citizen are you promoting through distance learning in the pandemic? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

Red State, Blue State: From Midwestern Firewalls to Sunbelt Horizons

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Having reviewed Illinois’ March primary results and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s Veepstakes in the previous two posts, today’s topic is the November General Election and various Electoral College scenarios that will determine whether President Trump earns a second term. It goes without saying that electoral math makes for some great cross-curricular civic learning connections.

Article II, Section I of the Constitution establishes an Electoral College to select presidents, balancing the will of the people with state interests. It allocates two Electoral Votes to each state with an additional vote per congressional district, thus a minimum of three, and via the 23rd Amendment, also awarding three Electoral Votes to the District of Columbia. Combined, 50 states and DC yield 538 Electoral Votes, with 270 constituting a majority.

Two of the past five presidential elections (2000 and 2016) produced Electoral College winners at odds with the popular vote, in both cases benefiting the Republican candidate (Bush 43 and Trump, respectively). Republicans’ dominance in rural, less-populated states produces an Electoral College advantage, not to mention Democrats’ concentration on the two coasts and urban areas. In the case of large states like California and New York, Democrats “waste votes” in the sense that the Electoral College is winner-takes-all by state, so any votes beyond a plurality only pad the meaningless popular vote. This leaves a handful of battleground states where the overall contest is ultimately decided, and the 2020 Election will likely heed to this decades-long patterns.

Drawing from combined rankings of leading election prognosticators, 270toWin offers a consensus map below with six toss-up states (Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida) and one toss-up district (the 2nd) in Nebraska. Maine and Nebraska award Electoral Votes by congressional district with a two-vote bonus for the statewide winner.

Note that President Trump won these states and Nebraska-2 in 2016 en route to a 304-227 Electoral Vote margin (seven “faithless” electors voted for other candidates) as Democrats’ Midwestern “blue wall” crumbled. Should former Vice President Biden rebuild it, a narrow path to victory emerges via the revised map below.

Click the map to create your own at

Biden also has a Sunbelt option should he reclaim Florida and North Carolina for Democrats (Obama won the former in both 2008 and 2012 and the latter in 2008) or pick up Arizona as Clinton did in 1992 and 1996 and pair it with Florida (see below).

Click the map to create your own at

Should Biden replicate the Sunbelt magic he enjoyed with his former running mate, President Trump can offset these gains with pick-ups in Minnesota and possibly New Hampshire, two states he lost by less than a percentage point in 2016, assuming he also holds Arizona.

Click the map to create your own at

Finally, in the ultimate teachable moment for civics teachers, there are plausible paths to an Electoral College tie, 269-269, as exemplified below.

Click the map to create your own at

Consulting Article II of the Constitution once more, the contest would be sent to the House of Representatives, with state delegations all afforded a single vote. Since Republicans have a majority in 26 state delegations to 22 for Democrats with two split (Michigan and Pennsylvania), assuming party unity, President Trump would be reelected.

For further discussion of these Electoral College scenarios and more, please join us tomorrow afternoon from 3:45-4:30pm for our April 21 webinar on Election 2020 titled “End Game.”

High-Stakes Presidential Matchmaking: A Rubric for Selecting a Running Mate

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Senator Bernie Sanders’ exit from the Democratic Presidential Primary last week makes former Vice President Joe Biden the Party’s presumptive nominee. Sanders will remain on the ballot through the conclusion of state contests in July (see a revised list of postponed and still-to-come primaries) in a bid to exact further leverage on the party platform through ongoing delegate accumulation. In addition to winning the requisite number of delegates (the original 1,991 may be in flux due to bonuses awarded by the Democratic Party to states holding later contests), Biden must navigate campaigning at a time of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, raise significant sums of money for the fall advertising and get-out-the-vote blitz, and pick a running mate prior to the postponed Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

While there is no shortage of prognosticating as to who Biden will/should select, this post will lay out a rubric to guide his vetting process, a framework I hope is also useful for student inquiries in civics classes. It should be noted that a Vice President’s power is constitutionally limited to presiding over the Senate in a ceremonial role, breaking tie votes in the body, and standing first in the line of succession should the President be incapacitated or die. But recent Vice Presidents, Biden included, assumed more informal power, and their addition to a presidential ticket is often seen as a means of balancing the relative strengths and weaknesses of its top billing.

Biden boasts significant political experience with more than three decades in the Senate and eight years as Vice President. He hails from Delaware, a solidly Democratic state, and his current delegate lead is attributable to his strong support among African Americans, voters 45 and older, and those residing in suburban areas. Given that he’ll be 78 come November 20, the oldest nominee in history, Biden must balance a younger running mate with the need for her to be ready on day one. And I did say “her,” as Biden promised to select only the third female vice presidential candidate ever.

Biden would be smart to revisit how successful presidential candidates in the past weighed these factors in making this most critical campaign decision. The table below lists each winning presidential ticket in the last half century and how the vice presidential pick varied from the nominee.

Year President (Party) VP Pick Regional Ideological Generational Experiential
1960Kennedy (D) Johnson South Moderate

1964 Johnson (D) Humphrey Midwest Liberal

1968, 1972 Nixon (R) Agnew Mid-Atlantic

1976 Carter (D) Mondale Midwest Liberal
1980, 1984 Reagan (R) Bush 41 South Moderate
Congressman, CIA Director, Ambassador
1988 Bush 41 (R) Quayle Midwest Conservative younger Senator
1992, 1996 Clinton (D) Gore

2000, 2004 Bush 43 (R) Cheney West
older Congressman, Cabinet Secretary
2008, 2012 Obama (D) Biden Mid-Atlantic
2016 Trump (R) Pence Midwest Conservative
Governor, Congressman

Regional balance is often a primary consideration in selecting a running mate to expand the electoral map, increasing the ticket’s strength in a battleground state or region. Only Clinton-Gore in 1992 and 1996 parted from this course in pairing to sons of the South. Does Biden look to rebuild the Democrat’s Midwestern “blue wall” in selecting Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer?

Ideological balance was formerly a strong criterion for constructing a ticket, but perhaps the sorting of the two parties and drift to the respective poles makes this less of an issue nowadays. However, the 2020 Democratic contest was characterized by a fierce battle between progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Sanders and the center-left establishment Biden calls home. Is he open to coopting a former rival like Warren to unite the party as Reagan did with Bush 41 in 1980?

Biden describes himself as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders, so a running mate from a different generation seems likely, but this decision is fraught with danger as Bush 41 took significant heat for selecting the largely unknown Indiana Senator Dan Quayle in 1988, not to mention Senator John McCain’s Hail Mary pairing with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008. Former Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams appears on many 2020 short lists, but does she and others meet the “ready on day one” test?

The historic Obama-Biden ticket was in other respects a blast from the past in pairing two U.S. Senators. Most tickets represent resume balancing as former governors served as presidents for all but four years from 1977-2009 (Bush 41 was the exception) and all sought legislative experience in the vice presidency. President Trump picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence four years ago and it’s perhaps no coincidence that he’s putting his executive experience to use in leading the White House’s COVID-19 Task Force. Biden’s service as VP perhaps mitigates the need for executive experience, but governors are ascendant in leading states’ responses to the pandemic. This includes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, but only Whitmer and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham meet Biden’s gender criteria.

Demographic balance was omitted from the table above as only Biden was of a different race than the presidential nominee and no successful presidential candidate won with a running mate of the opposite sex. Biden will seek to make history with a female running mate and several women of color populate prospect lists, including Abrams, Lujan Grisham, former UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Florida Congresswoman Val Demmings, Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Illinois’ very own Senator Tammy Duckworth, and California Senator Kamala Harris.

In sum, Biden’s running mate will likely offer regional, generational, and demographic balance, while ideological and resume considerations remain open questions, and each of these criteria ripe for application to prospect lists by his campaign and students of politics alike. Stay tuned for future posts on the battle for control of Congress and various Electoral College scenarios that may well inform Biden’s VP pick and join us for our April 21 webinar on Election 2020 titled “End Game.”

Illinois Primary Results Revisited as COVID-19 Crisis Cripples Turnout

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

In what now seems like ancient history, Illinois Civics Instructional Specialist Mary Ellen Daneels and I previewed Super Tuesday and the St. Patrick’s Day primaries that included Illinois in a February 18 webinar. While Ohio and many states since postponed their primaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois pushed ahead with voting days before a statewide shelter-in-place directive. What follows is my analysis of the results, and please join us for our April 21 webinar on Election 2020 titled “End Game.”

Recall that Illinois will send 155 pledged delegates, plus an additional 29 superdelegates, to the Democratic National Convention now scheduled for the week of August 17 in Milwaukee. By defeating Senator Bernie Sanders by 23 points in Illinois on March 17 (59.0% to 36%; see tally and map below), former Vice President Biden claimed 94 delegates to Sanders’ 60 with one yet to be allocated. Biden’s victory was expansive, winning 101 of 102 counties (Sanders prevailed by 2.9% in Champaign County), especially impressive given that Sanders won 78 counties in 2016, with Hillary Clinton edging him statewide given massive margins in Cook and St. Clair Counties.

Biden leads the overall delegate race over Sanders 1,217-914, with 1,991 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination, a subject we’ll address at greater length during the April 21 webinar.

Down the ballot,
  • Marie Newman knocked off longtime Congressman Dan Lipinski in the 3rd District on Chicago’s southwest side and suburbs, elevating a progressive more in line with the Democratic Party nationally than the socially moderate incumbent.
  • Former State Representative Jeanie Ives ran away with the Republican nomination in the 6th District in Chicago’s western suburbs for the right to face freshman incumbent Sean Casten in November.
  • And State Senator Jim Oberweis won a narrow plurality (with only 25.6% of the vote) in the exurban 14th District to challenge first term Congresswoman Lauren Underwood.
Downstate, Central Illinois Democrat Betsy Dirksen Longdrigan rolled to a rematch with incumbent Republican Rodney Davis, while Republican Mary Miller won the nomination for an open seat to replace retiring Congressman John Shimkus in Southern Illinois’ 15th District. Miller is opposed by Democrat Erika Weaver.

Of Illinois’ 18 congressional races, only four are deemed competitive, with the Davis-Longdrigan matchup in the 13th a toss-up, Underwood-Oberweis in the 14th leaning to the Democrats, and both Casten-Ives in the 6th and Representative Cheri Bustos’ reelection bid in Western Illinois’ 17th likely Democratic holds.

Finally, incumbent Senator Dick Durbin seeks a fifth term and will face former Lake County Sheriff and Republican nominee Mark Curran in a race unlikely to be competitive, although control of the U.S. is very much up for grabs.

Given the timing of Illinois’ primary, turnout proved lackluster in comparison to 2016 and 2008, yet higher than 2012 when President Obama sought reelection. 2020 primary turnout for the presidential contest was down 21% in comparison to 2016 (see graph below).

However, the Republican presidential nomination is virtually uncontested, campaigns were curtailed in the closing days as the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, and citizens proved wary of in-person voting. Many opted instead for mail-in ballots, and the state would be wise to prepare for a similar enterprise at scale come fall. Stay tuned for further analysis of the 2020 Election through the lens of Illinois politics in this brave new world of e-learning while candidates run campaigns not from their front porch, but their basements.