AP US Government~Teaching Political Parties and Elections

Idea #1 Have students  Students create a giant poster on the Five Party System and the current political parties.

  • Materials:  you’ll need easel board paper (the best has the sticky strip on the top), markers, and Patterson textbooks:  Divide Class into six groups.  Assign each group a different party system:
    • Give each group 15 to 20 minutes to put on their sheet the following information
    • Names of two major parties and years of dominance
    • Major platform issues (2-3 each)
    • Major candidates
    • The major demographics that supported each
    • Why did the system emerge?
    • What happened to the parties?

Note: One group will have the current system of parties, which won’t quite fit this template. Ask them to summarize what Patterson says on the subject

  • After fifteen minutes call time and arrange posters chronologically in order on the wall or the floor.  Have each group BRIEFLY present their finished product.

Once Posters are completed Show this brief video on Realignment and Dealignment



Idea #2  Have Students create platforms for the Federalist and Democratic Republicans  (c. 1800)

Idea #3 Group Work and Presentations: Students examine and different electoral system,

Using http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/index.php. (A UK site)  as a starting point, have students examine these different ways of choosing candidates.   “First Past the Post” (That’s what we have and what continues in Britain as well!):  The Alternative Vote; the Additional Member System;Proportional Representation//Party List; the Alternative Vote Plus; Total Representation: Supplementary Vote; the Limited Vote; Borda Count; Approval Voting; Additional Member System

For homework, or as an extension  in the computer lab have a pair or group of students investigate each of these electoral systems, and explain how the system would change the way members of Congress would be chosen in the US. In class, each group should make a pitch for its system (using a handout, the blackboard or PowerPoint) and should explain why the US use this system. Students ask questions of each presentation.   Once presentations are over, finish class with a discussion of the merits of each, and ask students to speculate on how each would change would affect US politics

Idea #4  Discussion with Prompts:  Use short clips from C-SPAN classroom to introduce students to the candidates from the minor parties in 2008. Bob Barr, Libertarian, Cynthia McKinney. Green, Chuck Baldwin, Constitutional Ralph Nader, Independent.


 Add the Tea Party movement.  http://www.teapartypatriots.org/

 Ask students to discuss the potential appeal of these candidates and platforms if the US electoral system were to change to encourage more political parties.

Idea #5  Warm up Use this ten-minute clip from You-Tube, which is an excerpt from James Bennett’s  “Not Invited to the Party” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXvC2G76HU

Let students comment on the accuracy of what Bennett says in light of their reading in whatever textbook you use.

 Student exploration into minor parties:

There are more than 100 national third parties in the U.S. today, but only a few get the ballot status in most states to make a bid for president. In recent years, candidates such as Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader 2000 have brought attention to the contributions more political parties might make to the national dialog. 

A. . Have students in pairs or groups explore the websites of some of the current Minor parties: You might want to include the “Tea Party”:

Green Party – www.greenparty.org

Libertarian Party – www.lp.org

Natural Law Party – www.natural-law.org

Reform Party – www.reformparty.org






 Have each group present platform and major ideology of the political party he or she studied.

When presentations are finished Ask students to discuss the potential appeal of these candidates and platforms if the US electoral system were to change to encourage more political parties.


 Idea #6 Students participate in discussion with transparencies and prompts culminating in group work. Lesson plan on Third Parties from the Youth Leadership Initiative:



Idea #7 Students debate whether Third Parties Strengthen or weaken Democracy.

Interesting debate from Poli-Central, the website that accompanies The American Democracy (See chapter 6 for debate format)


Discussion with Video clip prompt:

Should Democrats blame Ralph Nader for their loss in 2000?

 Have students watch the brief clip on this website and discuss the question asked in the clip:



Idea #8 Debate:  Should there be limits on campaign contributions?


Aff:  (In favor of limits)



Negative (no limits)




Idea #9  Students investigate the money involved in political campaigns

A. The Center for Responsive Politics has an extensive website, called “ Open Secrets”, which is useful in many ways.

B. Have each student choose a different Member of Congress and find out:

  1. How much money has he or she raised since the last election?
  2. 2.     What sorts of groups are providing the bulk of that money?
  3. 3.     Have students report their findings in class and then continue the discussion of the role of money in politics.

 Extension Activity: Students listen to Briefing on current state of Campaign Finance Reform

Assign this Brookings podcast for homework or toward the end of a class:


 Idea #9  Website exploration: Students learn about the role of “hired Guns” in political campaigns











A. In the computer lab or for homework have students look up one of these firms, all of which are what Patterson calls “the hired guns” of campaign centered campaigns”.  Ask students to report briefly on what sorts of services these firms offer candidates and others, and what sorts of proof these firms offer to show that they know how to get someone elected. Finish with discussion of the candidate-centered campaign


Idea #10  Students participate in a simulation of a congressional campaign

This great exercise, probably best done in the computer lab in groups, but, which would work well projected in the class as well each step of a campaign deciding fundraising and publicity tactics, setting the tone and strategy



Use the engaging campaign simulation from the Youth Leadership Initiative, especially the lesson from “A More Perfect Union in which students role play various members of a campaign staff



Idea #11  Students analyze the messages overt and hidden in political campaign commercials

Have each student to pick a commercial, analyze it and present it in class.

 Choose a variety and have students comment on how they show some of the concepts discussed in this chapter:  campaign centered candidates, retrospective and prospective voting; changes in campaign finance laws, 527s. To keep students focused, use the excellent questions to be found at the Paley Center website: http://www.paleycenter.org/education-class-teaching-television/

Students will find ads at: http://www.livingroomcandidate.org

Or http://www.easehistory.org

Idea #12 Students manipulate a political campaign ad, to learn some of the tricks of the trade.

In the computer lab, Show students this website from Wisconsin Public Television that allows them to manipulate a generic campaign ad.



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