Current Issues

There are three current issues on this year’s ballot. The questions ask whether students vote based on party loyalty versus voting by the candidate and issues, whether it is better to have a Congress and President of the same party or whether it is best for these two branches to be controlled by different parties, and whether America would benefit by the emergence of a strong third party. Below is a discussion of all three points, complete with articles and resources you can use in your classes.

  • Choosing Candidates by Party or Issues

    The partisan and sometimes divisive nature of current American politics and our civic discourse has been the subject of recent news stories and editorials. What is the origin of this? What can be done? What is the best way to teach students the role of political parties and party loyalty and some of the concerns that might accompany this approach? How can students become more media literate? Here are a few resources for all ages that help facilitate discussion and learning.
    • The Pew Research Center has several studies on political polarization. Best for High School aged students.
    • “How We Should Choose People for Positions of Authority.” Adapted for upper elementary and middle school.
    • Teaching about elections and controversial issues is inherently difficult. Additional, resources to help teachers navigate potential problems can be found on the Teacher Resources page under the “Teaching the Election in a Highly Partisan Era” workshop.
  • Is It Preferable For One Party To Control Both the Legislative and Executive Branches?

    Our government is based on the principle of limited government. Built into the Constitution is a system of checks and balances, with each branch having several means to restrain the others. As a result, democracies are often not as “efficient” as other forms of government, but that is outweighed by protections against one branch assuming excessive power. The question before students is whether it is preferable to have both Congress and the presidency controlled by members of the same party, thus increasing the chances of enacting one party’s policies, or whether it is better to have each branch controlled by different parties to prevent legislative or executive “overreach”.
  • Third Party

    Nothing in the Constitution mandates a two-party system, but one has evolved throughout American history. Third parties have arisen when a substantial portion of the electorate feels that their interests and concerns are not represented by the dominant parties. However, third parties seldom succeed at the polls and eventually find their issues eventually addressed by the major parties. Currently, there is some dissatisfaction with the two dominant parties, and students are asked to consider whether the United States would benefit from the rise of a strong third party capable of making an impact on elections.

    For a history of the rise of the two-party system and the impact of third parties, see resources and lesson plans from PBS NewsHour, History Channel, Schooltastic, and UVA Today.