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Evaluating Election Ads

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In this activity, students examine some of the techniques political campaigns use in ads to persuade voters.

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GRADE LEVEL: Middle and high school

TIME: 30-60 minutes

MATERIALS: Copies of the Evaluating Election Ads worksheet (download); “Daisy Girl” ad and “Wolves” ad from Election 2016: Stumped!? EDCollection; links to two contemporary election ads (source suggestions below)

PREPARE

  1. Make copies of the worksheet, one per student or small group.
  2. Open “Daisy Girl” and “Wolves” ads on a shared screen or create a share link for students to use on individual devices.
  3. Find and select two video ads from opposing sides in a current or recent election. We recommend browsing http://newrepublic.com/political-ad-database for 2016 presidential election ads and https://politicaladarchive.org for 2016 congressional election ads.
    • Hint: You can use bit.ly to make short URLs for your students.

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Downloads

Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.

DO

  1. Ask students: Why do political campaigns create ads?
  2. Ask students to list techniques that ads use to persuade viewers. Create a list on the board of their ideas.
  3. Explain that their ideas fall into two categories: claims and feelings. Ask students to define each.
    • Claims are information about past events or future plans, answering questions such as: What has the candidate voted for? Against? What has the candidate done? Promised to do? What has the candidate said s/he supports? Opposes?  (Note: Not all claims are facts.)
    • Feelings are content that appeals to the viewers’ emotions, utilizing techniques such as music, symbols (flags, factories, service members, families), location and cinematic techniques (angle, black and white versus color, etc.).
  4. Pass out copies of the Evaluating Election Ads worksheet. Have students watch Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” ad (1964) and George W. Bush’s “Wolves” ad (2004), and then in small groups discuss and complete the worksheet.
  5. Repeat the process with the two contemporary campaign ads of your choice.
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DISCUSS

After students have watched all four ads, discuss their findings as a group. Prompts include:

  • Which persuasion techniques in the ads do you find to be the most effective? Which techniques do you find to be the least effective? Why?
  • Which of these techniques do you see used the most often in election ads? Which do you see used the least often?
  • Do you think that any of these election ads go too far? Why or why not? What aspects of a candidate, if any, should be off-limits for negative attack ads?
  • Unlike in the 1964 ad, candidates today have to appear in ads produced by their campaigns (not by outside groups) and say, “I approved this message,” taking responsibility for the content. Do you think this has affected the amount of mudslinging in ads? Why or why not?
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