The National Front

A multimedia guide to our funky election system and the major issues at play this year.

RECENT POSTS

Why It Matters: Seven Major Issues At Stake For Youth In This Presidential Race

Includes explainer video

cbsnews.com

It’s been a long, hard slog, but the presidential race is finally coming to a close (back to good ole’ dish detergent and cereal commercials!). And for young people especially, the outcome could have a huge impact. There are some vast differences between what another four years of Democratic President Barack Obama will look like and a Republican Mitt Romney presidency.

So yes, it matters! Continue reading

Nine Big Differences Between Republicans and Democrats

And how their policies might impact you ... (includes PDF)

In the storm of political bickering, allegations and attack ads this election season, it’s easy to lose track of what the candidates and their political parties actually stand for. Many potential voters who’ve grown weary of the endless stream of negative campaigning may have the misconception that Barack Obama and the Democrats really aren’t all that different from Mitt Romney and the Republicans.

But take a quick look at the official 2012 platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties, and you’ll quickly some pretty extreme contrasts in philosophy on everything from taxes to abortion. In their national party platforms, the Democrats and Republicans have laid out a set of fundamentally different visions for America and the role its government should play in our lives. Continue reading

What Are Political Party Platforms?

Includew printable PDF

Flickr

By Donelle Blubaugh
Contributor

What are political party platforms and how much impact do they have in actual political decision-making?

During the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer, you probably heard a lot about the party platforms”  These are actual documents that communicate the key principles of a political party and its core ideologies. Namely, what’s our government for and how should it serve the people?  Recreational reading, they are not. But understanding them can help voters steer through some of the election-season spin. The platforms actually provide some real, concrete insight into how party officials and candidates stand on critical issues – things like the economy, education and foreign affairs and social policies. Continue reading

Where the Super PACs Spend Their Dough

Includes animation

This animation by NPR does a good job showing where the super PACs and campaigns are funneling their cash to buy up airtime for political ads. Forgot California – in the months leading up to election day, it’s all about the battleground states!

What Is The Safety Net (and who uses it)?

Includes original animation

What’s the deal with “the safety net”? The presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking and arguing about it, and the Democratic and Republican party platforms both seem to have pretty different perspectives on the role it should play in our lives.

So what is it? And who needs it? And why’s it gotta be such an issue?

In short, the safety net is a general term for the many government-funded social welfare programs intended to keep lower-income citizens from falling through the cracks – things like food stamps and subsidized health care. But the thing is, these programs aren’t cheap, and deciding how much of our tax revenue should go to pay for them is always a major point of contention – especially in hard economic times. Liberals often argue that providing necessary public services to society’s lower classes is not only the moral path, it’s actually good economic policy, in that it helps lift folks out of poverty and into more economically productive roles. Conservatives, though, often contend that the safety net is another example of big government reaching too far into our private lives. It’s and inefficient and financially irresponsible system that makes poor use of our hard-earned tax dollars, and creates a cycle of dependency, not independence.

So who’s right?

Check out the video, produced for The Lowdown by the folks at Explainer Music.

A Brief History of Arguing: The Greatest Hits (and misses) of Presidential Debates

Includes a NY Times video history of presidential debates

The first ever televised presidential debate didn't happen until 1960. Candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy squared off – just once – in front of the camera, an event that proved extremely beneficial to the smoother and more youthful Kennedy, who went on to win the election against his stodgier opponent. The next presidential debate wouldn't happen for another 16 years, when President Gerald Ford – who made a notorious factual gaffe – fared poorly against his Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter.

Ever since, presidential debates have become a fixture of our electoral system. It's now standard protocol for candidates to face off three times in the grueling weeks leading up to election day. The impressions they try to make, as they appear live before millions of viewers, can significantly influence the outcome of the election.

The first debate, which was on October 3 at the University of Denver, focused on domestic policy and followed a traditional debate format, in which moderator Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour asked questions, and the candidates took 2-minutes to respond. Mitt Romney, who delivered a much stronger performance, was widely considered the winner of this match-up. Following the debate, poll numbers – which had previously favored Obama – shifted slightly to put the candidates in a near dead heat.

So a lot is riding on debate number two, which takes place Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley,  for CNN takes the format of a town hall meeting, in which undecided voters in the audience have an opportunity to directly ask the candidates questions on both foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion.

The third and final face-off in the trilogy happens the following week, on Oct. 22 at Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL. It's hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS. The format will be identical to the first debate, with a focus on foreign policy.

For more on the debate system and full-length videos and transcripts of past debates, visit Commission on Presidential Debates.

 

The Battleground States: Where It All Goes Down

Includes maps and videos

Watch Map Center: What If the Battleground States Go Red? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Because nearly every state in the nation has a winner-take-all presidential electoral system (except Nebraska and Maine), the outcome on election day in most states is fairly predictable. No Republican presidential candidate, for instance, has won California since 1988, and there’s no sign of that trend changing anytime soon. So it wouldn’t be the smartest move to put your money on Mitt Romney here.

Likewise, Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. So Barack Obama’s chances of winning over the Longhorn State this election? Pretty slim.

Of course, on the rare occasion there have been some monumental upsets. Take Indiana, which hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, but in 2008 picked Obama (albeit narrowly and ephemerally: the state is back to it’s solid red roots this year).

The majority of the presidential race is downright predictable.

So where’s the suspense? Where’s the action? Continue reading

Three Awesome Infographics On America’s Abstract Electoral System

Elections aren’t supposed to be super complicated. But they are. And if you feel like you still need a diagram to figure out our electoral process, here are two good ones to get you started (created independently and shared on the site visual.ly). Click on the first one to see it full size.

What Is the Electoral College (and is it time to get rid of it)?

Everything you ever wanted to know about the electoral college but were afraid to ask (with videos and maps)

Here’s a little factoid that never fails to mightily confuse most voters. As Americans, we actually DO NOT directly elect our presidents and vice presidents. I repeat, the U.S. president is not chosen through a one-person, one-vote system!

Simply put: this is not direct democracy!

When we head to the polls on election day to choose a presidential candidate, we’re not actually really voting for that person. Instead, we’re throwing our support behind a group of “electors” who belong to a strange institution called the electoral college. And it’s that group that actually casts the direct votes to decide who the next president and vice president will be.

Don’t believe me? Check out Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Says it right there. Honest.

Weird, right?

Here’s how it works:

First off, what is the Electoral College (and do they have a good football team)?

It’s more of an institution than a place. No dorms.  No frat boys. No teams. No crazy parties. Basically, none of the fun stuff.

Here’s what it is: During the presidential election every four years, the various political parties in each state (for instance: California’s Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, etc.) choose a group of “electors,” generally party activists who have pledged their electoral votes to the presidential candidate of that party should he/she win the popular vote in that state. Pretty much anyone who’s registered to vote is eligible to be an elector, with the exception of members of Congress and federal government employees). Continue reading

Six Great Sites for Teaching the Business of Elections

Includes lots of multimedia resource links

What’s the electoral college, who are delegates, and why in the heck do we vote on Tuesday?

National elections, especially presidential ones, offer great teaching moments. But explaining the basic mechanics of America’s ever confusing electoral system can be daunting, especially for students who lack a basic understanding of the process.

Fortunately, there are a ton of great free digital resources out there to help your students demystify the process, using pretty engaging and creative formats. Of course, finding them entails the equally daunting task of spending hours online in search of the best unbiased content out there.

So, with that in mind, rather than adding to the cyber-pile, I’ve compiled a list of six excellent sites that do a good job in driving home basic election concepts, and, hopefully, encouraging your students to think critically about the process (rather than just learning about it as a given). This is by no means a comprehensive list (a good longer list can be found at the National Writing Project’s site), so if you have additional suggestions, please share in the comment box below. Continue reading