Electing the President: Voter Apathy

Teachers' Edition: Grades 3-6 (Lesson Plans)

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Key Concepts: participatory democracy; electoral politics

Duration: two (2) double-blocks (middle and high school), four (4) class periods (elementary school)

Goal: Students will understand the relationship between electoral engagement and political theory.

Objective: Students will learn how the form and function of representative government determines the degree voter apathy in a democratic system.

Essential Question: Does voter apathy decrease if a parliamentary (proportional) system of government replaces a congressional (winner-take-all) system?

Common Core Standards Met: CCR English Language Arts Standards 7-10

21st-Century Skills Employed: Civic Literacy


Session One:

  • Introduce topic and question, then direct students to read the following online articles PBS NewsHour: Is The System Broken? (elementary/middle school); International Business Times: Why is There so Much Voter Apathy in U.S. Elections? (advanced middle school/high school) and discuss the following table of voter turnout from 1960 to 2010: National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960–2010.
  • Lecture: explain the difference between proportional (e.g., Europe) and winner-take-all (e.g., United States) electoral system.
  • Break the students into pairs. Have one student in each pair list the characteristics of a proportional system and have the other do the same for a winner-take-all system.
  • Have each pair then combine their separate lists into one table that places similar and/or opposing characteristics next to one another.
  • Session Two:

  • Have each pair go over its table and identify each characteristic that might contribute to either voter apathy or voter engagement and tally the score in favor of either a proportional or winner-take-all system.
  • Bring the class back together and discuss each pairs findings and conclusions.
  • Follow-up discussion -- “Should the U.S. Have a Parliament”: In whole group, discuss whether or not the United States should scrap its current electoral system in favor of the kind that predominates in Europe and in many other parts of the world. Discuss, in particular, the impact such a change might have on the growing apathy of American voters. Suggested discussion questions: “Would voter apathy decline, if people felt that their vote really did count? If people knew that they would have a real voice in government, even it were a minority voice, would they be more active and engaged?” See Sanford Levinson: Our Idiotic Constitution in the New York Times for background/potential reading.
  • Assessment: Assess each student’s individual work based the rubric below (alternative -- pair grade, based on median letter score):
  • Student’s name: _________________________________________________________ 

    Group/Paired Work Grading Rubric



    General Participation (communication and effort)

    Excellent = 5

    Good = 4

    Average = 3

    Below Average = 2

    None = 1

    Overall Contribution (sharing workload)

    Exceptional = 5

    Good = 4

    As expected = 3

    Less than expected = 2

    Not apparent = 1

    Applied Knowledge (use of material and concepts learned)

    Solid application of learned material = 5

    Very good application of learned material = 4

    Adequate application = 3

    Weak application = 2

    No apparent application = 1

    Comprehension (understanding of topic/assignment)

    Excellent comprehension = 5

    Good comprehension = 4

    Average comprehension = 3

    Weak comprehension = 2

    No comprehension = 1

                                   Highest Possible Average Points




                                                     Total Average Points




    Letter Grade


    Grade Scale: 5 (A), 4 (B), 3 (C), 2 (D), 1 (F)


    Materials/Resources Required

    Non-tech: paper/graph paper, pens and/or pencils; computer access to Internet and Google suite (Google docs)


    proportional representation: representation based on the proportion of the vote won by a given political party

    parliament: legislative assembly based on proportional representation

    multiparty democracy: democratic system in which multiple parties participate and share representative power

    two-party democracy: democratic system in which multiple parties may participate but only two share representative power


    Douglas J. Amy: How Proportional Representation Elections Work

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