Sunday, December 20, 2009

Presidential Approval Ratings Revisited

How Mr. Obama is Faring

If you are like me the closing of 1st semester usually finds my classes on the topic of the Presidency. For some reason this year I am a tad behind schedule, and will need to finish the Executive branch when I return after the holidays. And that is just fine with me! I believe this is a unique opportunity to analyze the presidency. As Mr. Obama finishes his first year in office, we can look at several aspects of his administration and then apply it to the lessons in Hippocampus.

Last year I blogged on the idea of Presidential approval rating (see December 7, 2008) by directing you to look at a Wikipedia site on the topic. I would like to send you there again this year to see the (Obama) updates. As is apparent by the current polls, Mr. Obama is now at or below the 50% approval rating. Having entered office with a 70% approval rating, we have to ask why the 20% drop in his first year of office. The year has not been a disaster for the new President. The recession according to economists has lessened, the bail-outs to banks are being repaid, the war in Iraq has quieted, and the Nobel committee saw fit to award the President it's Peace Prize. On the other hand federal spending is out of control, the health reform bill is dragging through Congress, the situation in Afghanistan is now demanding a troop buildup, and a right wing backlash led by television pundits and Sarah Palin is vocally attacking the White House relentlessly. So why the drop?

Here is a lesson plan I intend on using in class when the semester resumes that will address this issue. My students have already looked at Rossiter, Neustadt, Burns, and Barber in the Hippocampus lessons and in the Lineberry textbook and we have had an opportunity to digest these in class. We have also discussed as a class the process of polling (see Hippocampus). I will now put the kids in small groups of 3-4 and have them develop a plan for the President to improve his approval ratings by developing policy statement in the areas of a) domestic policy, b) international policy, and c) economic policy. I will give them a class period to define statements from each area. They can use the Internet to develop ideas and as they work in groups I will circulate and give them suggestions and ideas. This most likely will result in some out of the classroom work. Students can so easily communicate today via email, texting, and vehicles such as Google Docs that this can be finished in the day I don't see them.

During the next class each group will present their statements to the class. As they do so, these statements will be recorded on the board. Then as a class, I will ask for a critique of each of the statements as far as how would it be received by the public, by the media, by the Congress, and by the President's party and the opposition party. I anticipate that this activity will take the remainder of the second class.

Following this, I will ask that each student write a page to two page reaction paper based on the activity speculating on how President Obama could raise his approval rating while meeting the needs of the nation and his party. I will also ask them to comment on what they have learned from the lesson concerning the chief executive and his job.

This is a messy assignment. It does not have neat boxes to fill in or specific instructions for the students to follow. It is extremely open ended, and the results of the groups and the content of the reaction papers vary greatly, which is exactly what I want to see. A wide variety of results can come from such an assignment. I first hope students really understand what an impossible job the President has trying to fulfill his many roles while pleasing his multitude of constituents. This usually comes to light as we critique the policy statements of the groups. Second, I hope the students fully understand Neustadt's idea of the President as a Clerk. As the students create policies and as we critique those policies in class it becomes apparent how dependent the President is on his Cabinet and bureaucracy as well as Congress in carrying out his wishes. Finally, I want to revisit the expressed goals of the President as a candidate and see if those goals were achievable in the political climate. This is the Burn's idea on presidential greatness. I always like to ask the students if a modern president can ever be great given the political realities of our time.

I tend to like this type of class project. It forces the students to apply their reading and Hippocampus lessons to the current political climate and analyze and predict outcomes. It is definitely an assignment on the top side of Bloom's Taxonomy. I am fortunate to have students who will take the assignment seriously and will give a reasonable effort in the groups. Since right and wrong answers don't exist for the group portion, the participation in the group is the key issue in establishing a grade for the activity. The response paper can be customize to meet your personal teaching style and student expectations.

In the end, I believe the time we spend with the students discussing policy development and the many snags that policies can create for our leaders is time well spent. Opening dialogue with the kids and encouraging civil discourse can only have positive results.

This is my last blog of 2009. Thanks for your readership this year. I hope your holiday season is happy and that your homes are blessed with the laughter of friends and family. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas with you in 2010. Until then....

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