Key Concepts: political interest groups, representative democracy, two-party system
Duration: two (2) double-blocks (middle and high school), four (4) class periods (elementary school)
Goal: Students will understand how the American two-party system functions to accommodate interests that in other democratic countries are served by the multi-party parliamentary system..
Objective: Students will learn the process by which American presidents are selected and how that process functionally incorporates disparate political interests into a single governmental whole..
Essential Question: In a country with so many different political differences, factions, and interest groups, how is it that America routinely succeeds in selecting presidents capable of asserting executive power in a manner that is acceptable or at least tolerable for most citizens?
Introduce topic and question, then direct students to read the following online articles from EnchantedLearning (middle school) and Wikipedia (advanced middle school/high school) and watch the YouTube video.
Have the students produce a list of the various interest groups or blocks in the United States today (e.g. farmers, bankers, abortion rights proponents, labor union members, etc., results may vary). Next, have them create a table that sorts the interests according to their identification as either local, state, or national interests.
Break the class into small groups of four (4) students each, appoint a group leader. Have each group leader create a Google document and share it with the rest of the group members. (Alternative: have the group leader provide butcher paper and pens/pencils/markers sufficient for all group members to draw and/or write on the paper.)
Have the groups draw a series of concentric circles from small to large and label them accordingly: smallest circle—caucus; larger—primary; larger—nominating convention; largest—national election. Then, ask the students to place the interest groups that they had previously identified into the circle where their needs/demands would be most likely to be met (e.g. farmers = caucus, primary; abortion rights opponents = national, etc.).
Once the circle charts are finished, have the students present their product to the class, by group. Each student should have a speaking role in the presentation. (non-tech alternative—have students present their poster board). After the group presentation, open the floor to audience questions and comments.
Follow-up Discussion, “Selecting a President Who Can Govern”: In whole group, discuss whether or not the American way of electing a president ensures that the executive can govern effectively a nation with such a wide range of interest groups and divergent needs. Does the process of moving from local caucus to state primary to national election allow an elected president to lay claim to being the president of all the people?
Assessment: assess students presentations based the rubric below: