Navigating Polls, Political Advertising and the Press in the 2020 Elections

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Polls, Political Advertising and the Press, OH MY! If this week’s presidential debate is any indication, I do not think we are in Kansas anymore. A tornado of fact-checking, partisan punditry, and preliminary polling welcomed all of us as we awoke to post-debate analysis. This is why this week’s #Teach2020 webinar was well-timed with information and resources to help classrooms navigate this election season.

The webinar began with two of our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches sharing resources they recommend for classroom use to navigate the landscape of media this campaign season. Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz from Charleston shared:
  • Polling Pitfalls, a lesson plan from PBS NewsHour Extra. “This lesson plan helps students understand polling practices and important aspects of valid polling”
  • Polls: Can Polls Be Trusted? An inquiry from C3 Teachers. “This is a longer inquiry that teaches about types of polls, how polling is done (and what impact questions have), and teaching about poll validity.”
  • Confirmation and Other Biases, a lesson from Facing History and Ourselves. “This piece is from the FHAO unit on news literacy in a digital age (the whole unit is great), and it talks about confirmation bias - we can think about our own, as well as those in the media and world of politics. The lesson has some great videos to help students understand how this all works, especially The Monkey Business Illusion.”
Matt Wood from West Chicago highlighted:
  • FiveThirtyEight. “Nate Silver has essentially gamified polling and his website really is a wonderland of interactive polls. What is particularly fascinating is the website’s poll rating that spans left and right on the political spectrum. Since many kids are intuitive explorers of internet content, this site is great to let them loose on and get those authentic questions rolling.”
  • FiveThirtyEight Election Forecasts. “A favorite of my students are the visualizations 538 uses. The visuals presented allow these emerging math learners a chance to wrap their heads around all of the number-crunching allowing them the chance to join in those ah-ha moments.”
  • The Great Debates from the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “The Great Debates website from the Museum of Broadcast Communications has an interactive timeline dating back to 1924 with the first broadcast debates on the radio. The resource also houses an interactive page highlighting critical moments in televised debates dating back to 1960.”
  • The Washington Post: Politics - Campaign Ads 2020. “The Washington Post has collected Political Campaign Ads from the 2020 election cycle. These can be very engaging (when they aren’t interrupting your favorite shows every ten seconds) and can be analyzed by students. Using target questions like ‘who is this ad meant to influence?’ and comparison analysis of the two front runners, students can begin to see the inner workings of campaign commercials. This is a great thing to study in real-time, but it also comes up in the iCivics game, Win The White House, which is a student favorite.”
More resources around information literacy can be found in the recently updated Illinois Civics Election 2020 Toolkit.

Dr. Shawn Healy, the Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, shared important research and tools around how to wisely consume information related to #Election2020 with an explicit emphasis on the challenges of polling and considerations for curating a diverse media diet to combat confirmation bias. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view at your convenience.

What are you doing to help students navigate the information landscape around the 2020 elections? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life in traditional, remote, and hybrid classrooms.

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