Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Hot Ticket to Congressional Elections

Look out...I'm Using the "W" Word

I can't believe I am about to do this in public. I'm going to use the "W" word...not only use it, but recommend it. I am sending you to the Wikipedia page for Congressional Elections. I have always been suspicious of Wikipedia; or maybe I should say down right distrustful. But following a long, futile search to locate a site that pulled together all of this year's Congressional races, Wikipedia was the only one that did the job. Let me know if you can prove this wrong.

When you click on the above hyperlink and get to the Wikipedia site, drop down a few lines and you will see United States House Elections 2008 or United States Senate Elections 2008. Click on these and you will get a plethora of great stuff. First, go to the House Elections 2008. On the top of the article is a nice red/blue map of incumbents by Congressional districts. I found this very useful in class discussions. I asked the kids to compare the incumbents of our state to the way our state voted in the last four presidential elections (using the CNN election map discussed last week). This became a springboard for a class discussion on divided government, voting patterns of the electorate, and party loyalty or the lack thereof.

The next thing I did with this page was have the students look at the retiring incumbents. We already had a discussion on incumbent re-election efficiency and open election competition, so this information was combined for a good discussion speculating on the expected changes in the total House membership this year. That led to a discussion on how this could possibly help an Obama Presidency if he wins or hurt a McCain administration if he wins. I saw a lot of light bulbs turn on during this class discussion.

Next, a table is given with pundits rating selected House races. Following this is a brief look at each of these races. We looked at the pundit's predictions for our state. Again, it fostered a great discussion. We then looked at some of the key races in other states. I wrapped this up with a short writing exercise asking the students to make their own personal House predictions, justify these, and then discuss the ramifications of their predicted outcome. I did this with my classroom, but there is no reason that this could not become a bulletin board discussion with a subsequent writing assignment.

The Senate article is very similar. It has the red/blue map, a list of retiring Senators (all Republican), information on all of the Senate races, and predictions by the pundits. If your students are using the Sabato book, they will enjoy seeing their textbook author as one of the pundits. Since our state has a Senate race this year, we looked at it, the predictions, and compared this to the House races.

It is very easy in a Presidential Election year to overlook the Congressional races. In our state, we hardly see any information in the paper on this race and election television ads are just now starting to appear regularly. Our incumbent is fairly safe, but the class discussion on Senate versus House incumbent rate of re-election was interesting. I am using the video "The Candidate" right now, and so this site really helped to reinforce the teaching points we are focusing on (see my blog entry: AP Goes Hollywood, continued on 9-14-08) . The students are also marveling on how some things never change.

Enjoy the election season with the students. One more debate between the Presidential contenders is still coming up and the Congressional races are gaining full force. Its a fun time to be teaching government. Until next time...

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