Campaigns, Candidates and Spin

(Larry Fogel/The Washington Post)
During the presidential election years, students have the opportunity to observe democracy in action — primary votes and caucuses, local speeches and televised debates, spin and social media. Press coverage of candidates through editorial boards, reporters, photographers and commentators serves the public's right to know in order to make their own decisions.
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

In the race to be a party’s candidate, individuals give speeches, attend community events and engage in televised debates with other hopefuls. After these events the spin doctors, the individuals whose job is to make sure the candidate they support is reported in the best light, gather in what has come to be known as “spin alley.” Here reporters meet to interview them, to record their perspectives and get an understanding of the path of the campaign.


Into the communications mix of media professionals, press secretaries, public relations firms, spokespersons and, sometimes, the candidates themselves, enter social media. Since the "social media election" of 2008, all have become more savvy in disseminating political messages and gathering voter information online. One of the resource guides focuses on spin, its use and myths, and the role of money in winning political office.


The election process, from the first caucus and primary vote, is presented in the second resources guide through KidsPost articles, word find and crossword puzzle. Activities include writing a slogan and designing a campaign button, reading editorial cartoons and testing one's voter knowlege.


Many suggestions for use of this material and other Washington Post news, opinion and features follow. Read on.


APRIL 2016

Media Tips for Candidates
Resource Graphic 

Take a Look at Etymology
English, Political Science, Government 
In this month’s Word Study, we focus on the roots and uses of three words related to elections. Give students “Word Study: A Word About Candidates, Nominees and Polls.” Three sentences are given to illustrate today’s use of the words. After discussing etymology of each word, ask students to write a coherent paragraph or short statement in which all three words are used.


Want to study the etymology of other terms related to voting? Visit each of these previous NIE guides:
• Word Study: A Word About Elections
• Word Study: A Look at Suffrage
• Word Study: A Look at Congress


Develop Vocabulary
English, Government, Political Science, Social Studies
Words used by David Greenberg in “5 Myths About Spin” are found in In the Know. Discuss these terms with students before reading the opinion piece.


Terms used by Drew Harwell in his Economy & Business pages article, “Full stream ahead in YouTube election season” are found in In the Know. Although your students may be users of YouTube, the vocabulary may need review. This might include asking students to give examples of memes, parody and pundits.

What Is Super Tuesday?
Reading, Social Studies
Give students the KidsPost article “After ‘super’ day of elections, Clinton and Trump move closer to nominations: Both front-runners won in Virginia on Tuesday, the busiest day of the primary season.” Teachers might discuss the difference between a primary election (run by the state government) and a caucus (organized by a state's political parties).


Discuss why the candidates, their staffs and media give so much attention to this one primary election day. Note the assumptions made about the leading candidates after Super Tuesday votes were added.


Students could do an e-Replica search to update the delegate count of the candidates at different points of the remaining primary elections and caucuses.


Find Words
English, Journalism, Political Science, U.S. Government

Race to the Voting Booth,” a word find, is included in this guide. Discuss the meaning of each of the words and identify the individuals listed. Students might be asked to talk about the 2016 election using the terms. Answers are found in the resource guide, Election 2016.


Do a Crossword Puzzle
English, Social Studies, U.S. Government

Seven of the candidates seeking their party’s nomination to be the presidential candidate are included as well as many terms related to running for office in the crossword puzzle, “2016 Electable Terms.” The Answer grid is found in Election 2016.


After students have completed the crossword puzzle, teachers could ask students to use six or more of the words found in the puzzle in a coherent statement.

The 2016 Campaign
Resource Graphic 

Observe the Online Campaigns
Journalism, Media Literacy, Political Science, Social Studies

What do your students understand of social media as a political tool? Discuss with them why the 2008 presidential election was known as the social media election. Include the Obama team’s use of the Internet to build a grassroots network, get out younger voters and raise financial support.


What have your students seen on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media related to the primaries, both local and national?


Drew Harwell, having done his research, writes that in January 2016 “a political ad — actually, three — ranked among YouTube’s 10 most-watched ads for the first time in history, delivering millions more views to campaigns than to the best commercials corporate American had to offer.”


Teachers may want to show students Bernie Sanders' America before they read and discuss “Full stream ahead in YouTube election season.”


Questions may include
• Why must those seeking office use digital advertising?
• Explain the reference to FDR’s fireside radio chats. How are candidate videos similar?
• Numbers/data clearly support the reach of social media. Do eligible voters whom they know share or talk about videos or tweets from or about candidates? 
• Can students relate any TV ads for candidates? Do they pay attention to them?
• Do students think videos, tweets and other social media contacts influence voters?


In addition to using social media to send information, candidates are mining what Americans are posting about them to adjust their messages. Candidates can determine very quickly how long statements they made are receiving negative public response. They know whether money and time should be spent on counter ads or to just let the issue die through lack of interest.


If teachers wish to extend this activity, they might ask student groups to evaluate the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat presence of candidates.  


Create a Campaign Button
Art, Government, Political Science

Work with words and art to write a slogan and design a campaign button. This activity can be placed in the context of historic campaigns — the slogans, buttons, songs and posters created to get attention and demonstrate support every four years.    


Project the August 2, 2015, evaluation of campaign logos, “The logo logic of 2016,” for the class to see. Before reading the text, students could be asked to identify the candidates by the logos that are grouped together at the top of the online article and to tell which ones they find appealing. What do they have in common? Discuss what makes them appealing. 


Ask students to become a candidate for office. Give them “Design Your Message” to guide the activities of writing a slogan and designing a button.


Teachers may wish to tie this activity to examining the role of third parties. Third Parties, Political Movements and Interest Groups includes “Political Impact,” “Why Have the Fourteenth Amendment” and “Create Your Own Third Party.”


Find the Story in Photographs
Art, English, Journalism, Photography, Government

Each day Washington Post photographers capture local, national and international events, people and daily life. Look at the photographs found in today’s Washington Post A section.
• How many photographs are printed in the section?
• What story does each image relate?
• If any of the photographs are related to the elections, summarize the 5Ws and H communicated in the photographs.
• Select a photograph to review. Who is the subject of the image? What location, event, interaction, mood is related? What does the caption add to the photograph’s content?


Observe a Contested Convention
Government, Political Science, U.S. History

What happens when none of the individuals who are seeking their party’s nomination to be the presidential candidate gets the minimum number of delegates to secure the party’s vote?


After discussing the relation of primary elections and caucuses to delegates sent to national party conventions, teachers might give students “The Ballot Brawl of 1924” to read and discuss. It is found in the April 8, 2006, NIE curriculum guide Primarily Images and Issues. This article provides historical perspective on contested conventions.
• What was the situation in 1924?
• Why did it take so long to select the party’s nominee?
• What similarities do students see to the current primary season?


Students could also be encouraged to read autobiographies and biographies of U.S. presidents. Books appropriate for many reading levels are available. They offer a picture of the men who have held the office and those who lost, of the issues of the time and America unfolding. Read The Washington Post Magazine’s “44 Presidents, 43 Biographies, One Huge Obsession.” 

Read About Spin

Read the Editorial
Journalism, Media Arts, Political Science 

One of the issues raised during the primaries was the source of finances and cost of running to be the party’s nominee — in addition to the future expense of running on the party’s ticket. Discuss with students what they know about financing a political campaign. How much do local candidates spend to be the party’s nominee on the general election ballot? What expenses are involved (office, posters and buttons, media presence, for example)? How much more might this amount be for a national campaign?


Give student The Washington Post editorial, “The presidency can’t be bought.” The March 5, 2016, editorial is subheaded: “The 2016 race shows that ideas still can matter in politics, sometimes more than money.” Discuss this idea with students after reading the editorial.


The Post editorial board meets with candidates before endorsing, if they do, any candidate. “A transcript of Donald Trump’s meeting with The Washington Post editorial board” on March 21, 2016, gives a glimpse of such meetings.


 Learn About Spin
Government, Political Science

Televised debates are also held between the candidates. After these events the spin doctors, the individuals whose job is to make sure the candidate they support is reported in the best light, gather in what has come to be known as “spin alley.” Here reporters meet to interview them, to record their perspectives and get an understanding of the path of the campaign. This is one aspect of spin and the role of the spin doctor during campaigns.


Read and discuss “5 Myths About Spin.” Teachers are provided “Take a Spin,” questions to guide reading and discussion.


Debate, English, Government, Political Science

Give students “The Web of the Spin Doctor” to read and discuss.

To test students’ understanding of the concept and the practice of being a spin doctor, ask them to take the role of spin doctors. Form five groups. A person from each group will select a slip of paper. Teachers will have written on each slip of paper one of the following:
• Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf
• Goldilocks and the Three Bears
• Little Red Riding Hood
• Tortoise and the Hare
• Jack and the Beanstalk

In the five groups, the participants will work as a team hired to improve the image of one of the characters in the fairy tale and fable. They are to pretend they are preparing their client to face the media and to prepare a statement to be made by the client. Spin is done by presidential press secretaries, chiefs of staff, public relations firms and individuals themselves. For example, the team that has Goldilocks and the Three Bears will work on improving Goldilock’s image. Why did she break into the home of the Bear family? Eat their food? Break their chairs? Manage to remain unharmed after sitting in one of their chairs?

Give students time to work on their spin. Each group will present their spin aloud without telling the fairy tale or fable for which the spin is given. After all five groups present, teachers may lead a discussion of the approaches taken, and students could select the most effective, most creative, most outlandish spin doctors.


Check the Facts
Government, Political Science
The Washington Post and other media and watchdog organizations have fact checkers to examine statements of candidates for their accuracy. Research skills, objectivity and clarity of expression are important traits for a fact checker. First introduce students to the background, goal and principles of the Fact Checker. Also introduce students to the symbols used for misstatements, dubious “facts” and omissions as well as the Geppetto Checkmark, the highest rating for statements and claims that are true.

Visit The Post’s Fact Checking the 2016 Presidential Hopefuls.

Illustrations of eight presidential hopefuls appear across the top of the page. Select Kasich, then March 14, 2016, to show students how to use the site. The date of statements, a summary of the claim, and “The Pinocchio Test” ratings (an advance reflection of the accuracy of the statement according to the Fact Checker’s research) are given. Note that this has one topic (Common Core) and the statements given during the CNN Republican debate on March 10.

Teachers may ask students to select one of the eight individuals or assign groups to explore a particular office seeker.



Be a Fact Checker
Government, Political Science
The above activity could be extended: Ask students to be fact checkers. Provide students with “Be a Fact Checker” to give background on why fact checkers are important. The Fact Checker does the research, checks the data and provides a reader service — as well as enhances the trustworthiness of the news organization.

Give students statements made in the last week by a national or local candidate. They can work alone or in teams to research the statements.
• What are the reliable websites they might use? What .gov or .edu website might have background information?
• The candidate's website may be a source, but what must be kept in mind? 
• Should they check with the candidate’s staff to be sure the candidate is accurately quoted? Or wishes to clarify the statement?


Register and Vote
Government, Journalism, Political Science

Teachers should encourage their older students who meet voting age requirements to register to vote. Invite a local electoral registration official to talk to your class. Student journalists could write an article to inform fellow students of where and how to register — and to encourage to exercise this right.

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Candor Advocacy
Hone Cultural landscape
Motivated reasoning Digital advertising
Pedestrian Digital populism
Paean Extol
Poll Meme
Pollster Myopic
Publicity Omnipresence 
Prelapsarian Parody
Provocative Petri dish 
Prowess Prolific 
Pundit Realm
Rhetoric Social media 
Selective Exposure Spellbinding
Selective Perception Viral
VOCABULARY USED IN "5 Myths About Spin"

VOCABULARY USED in "Full stream ahead in YouTube election season" 

ANSWERS. Test Your Voter Knowledge.

THE PROCESS. 1. A natural born U.S. citizen, B. 35 years old, C. lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years. 2. Answers will vary. 3. “If you are running for the U.S. House, Senate or the Presidency, you must register with the FEC once you (or persons acting on your behalf) receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $5,000. Within 15 days of reaching that $5,000 threshold, you must file a Statement of Candidacy; authorizing a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on your behalf. Within 10 days of that filing, your principal campaign committee must submit a Statement of Organization. Your campaign will thereafter report its receipts and disbursements on a regular basis. 


4. A. $2,700 per election, B. $5,00 per year, C. $10,000 per year (combined), D. $33,400 per year. Note that in the case of a Presidential candidate, an individual “may contribute up to $2,700 for the entire primary campaign period — not $2,700 for each State primary.


5. Eleven states operate open primaries, which permit any registered voter to cast a vote in a primary, regardless of his or her political affiliation. This means that a Democrat could "cross over” and cast a vote in the Republican primary, or vice versa, and an unaffiliated voter can choose either major party's primary. Eleven states operate closed primary elections or caucuses. In either case, only voters who are registered as members of a political party prior to the primary date may participate in the nomination process for its candidates. In a top-two system, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are listed on one ballot. Voters choose their favorite candidate, and the top two vote-getters, from whichever party, become the candidates in the general election.


6. A caucus is a closed meeting within a community or legislative district of citizens belonging to the same party; during the designated time they express a presidential preference and select delegates. It is much more interactive and fluid than primary voting; exact running of a caucus varies from state to state. Caucus elections take place in 19 states and D.C.; they include Iowa, Nevada, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire and Wyoming.


7. Allocation – All Democratic primary/caucus delegates are proportionally allocated. Republican primaries/caucuses are listed as Proportional (P), Winner-Take-All (WTA), or Winner-Take-Most (WTM).

Proportional – Delegates are awarded based on the percentage of the vote received by candidates, or some formulation of dividing up the delegates

Winner Take All – All delegates are given to the person with the most votes;

Winner Take Most – Some delegates are reserved for the person receiving the highest number of votes, some may be divided proportionally;

Unbound – Delegates are not bound to a specific candidate and can support any candidate of their choosing, varies by state party. Read more at

8-10. Answers will vary. 11. The selection of the vice presidential running mate is officially selected by each party’s quadrennial nominating convention after the presidential candidate is selected. Delegates place the names of candidates into nomination. In reality, the presidential candidate indicates his preferred running mate.

12. Should include: as President of the Senate, break a tie if senators are unable to compromise, preside over the U.S. Electoral College. 13. Four years. 14. Be sure that constitutional duties enumerated in the U.S. Constitution are listed. Answers will vary. 15- 20. Answers will vary.

Bonus: Answers will vary. The Millionaires’ Amendment permits an opponent of a candidate for the House of Representatives who contributes more than $350,000 in personal funds to his campaign to accept contributions from individuals in excess of the usual limits, 2 U.S.C. 441a(a), and allows the opponent’s political party to make coordinated expenditures in excess of the usual limits, 2 U.S.C. 441a(d), if and when certain specified conditions are met. The result of Buckley v. Valeo was that candidates have no cap on spending as long as the money is raised from private donors. Many state and local elections have voluntary spending limits and the result is usually a more level playing field for candidates. Politicians on the federal level are hesitant to back any provisions on spending limits because of the reality of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money.



District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Government. The student will demonstrate an understanding of the historical development and current status of principles, institutions, processes of political systems. (Goal 1 Political Systems)

• The student will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of United States government and apply them to real-world situations. (Indicator 1.1.1) Basic principles: federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, representative democracy, limited government, rule of law, individual rights and responsibilities, consent of the governed, majority rule, popular sovereignty, equal protection.
• The student will explain roles and analyze strategies individuals or groups may use to initiate change in government and institutions. Political parties, interest groups, lobbyists, candidates, citizens, and the impact of the media on elections, elected officials and public opinion. (Indicator 1.1.4)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

GOVT.1  The student will demonstrate mastery of the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to

a)   analyze primary and secondary source documents;
b)   create and interpret maps, diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets;
c)   analyze political cartoons, political advertisements, pictures, and other graphic media;
d)   distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information;
e)   evaluate information for accuracy, separating fact from opinion;
f)   identify a problem, weigh the expected costs and benefits and possible consequences of proposed solutions, and recommend solutions, using a decision-making model;
g)   select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate.


GOVT.5  The student will demonstrate knowledge of the federal system described in the Constitution of the United States by
a)   explaining the relationship of the state governments to the national government;
b)   describing the extent to which power is shared;
c)   identifying the powers denied state and national governments;
d)   examining the ongoing debate that focuses on the balance of power between state and national governments.


GOVT.6  The student will demonstrate knowledge of local, state, and national elections by
a)   describing the organization, role, and constituencies of political parties;
b)   describing the nomination and election process;
c)   examining campaign funding and spending;
d)   analyzing the influence of media coverage, campaign advertising, public opinion polls, and Internet-based communications on elections;
e)   examining the impact of reapportionment and redistricting on elections;
f)   identifying how amendments extend the right to vote;
g)   analyzing voter turnout;
h)   evaluating the degree to which interest groups influence political life;
i)    participating in simulations of local, state, and/or national elections.


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts, Key Ideas and Details. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1)


History/Social Studies, Key Ideas and Details. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2)


History/Social Studies, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7)


History/Social Studies, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8)



Common Core standards may be found at