Shrinking Swing Seats

AP US Government and Politics

Out of 435 House seats how many are swing seats*?

*A swing seat is a district held with a small majority that is generally competitive in a legislative election. Because the number of Democrats and Republicans in a swing district are so close, a swing seat might be won by a Republican one election, and then a Democrat the next. This is also known as a competitive seat. The opposite is a safe seat, an district that is drawn so that it is predictably won by one party or the other, so the success of that party's candidate is almost taken for granted.

Cook Political Report

AP US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What story does this chart tell?

  3. Explain one reason the number of swing seats is shrinking.

  4. What is one consequence of the shrinking number of swing seats?

  5. What is good about swing seats?

  6. Is the shrinking number of swing seats good news or bad?

  7. How surprising was this information?

  8. What would be one way for there to be more swing seats in the US?

  9. Who draws the district lines in US house races?

  10. Does this chart make majority leadership in the House likely to change parties any time soon?

  11. How does the lack of swing seats affect how campaign and elections are run?

  12. If you were to extrapolate these trends into the future what would the chart look like by the year 2020?

  13. If you were a representative in a safe seat, explain what incentive you would have to listen to the will of the people or compromise on your views.

  14. Explain whether the Senate has swing seats.

  15. How would having more competitive elections, instead of elections where we already know who will win in almost all elections, impact the kind of policies we get?

  16. What questions do you have about this?

  17. How does this information impact American democracy?

Learning Extension

I have not lived in a swing seat during my adulthood. Instead, the two districts I have lived in have been safe for one party for the past two decades. Check out the Cook Political Report chart of very few competitive races from 2016 or take a gander at this interactive map of competitive seats from 270 to Win.

Action Extension

Find out if your district is a swing seat. Share your answer in class or online. Contact your US House representative and explain to them why they do or don't need to listen to the will of the people or compromise in any way.

Bonus Map

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Incumbent Reelection Rates

AP US Government and Politics

Over the past half century, about what percent of incumbents* are reelected to Congress?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this data?

  3. What is the big story this chart tells?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. What is one consequence of this?

  6. Is this good news, bad news, neither, or both?

  7. Based on this chart alone, make one prediction about incumbents and the 2018 midterm elections:

  8. If you were to draw this chart twenty years into the future what would it look like:

  9. Have US incumbent reelection rates always been this high? (see bonus chart below.)

  10. Imagine a world where there were no incumbents (in other words, you were not allowed to run for reelection EVER) what would that political system look like and who would it empower?

  11. No matter what happens in the the next  election, the big winners will be incumbents. Who will the big losers be?

  12. What are three reasons that incumbents win?

  13. Let's say that you wanted to take away some of these incumbent advantages, who would have to pass the laws to take away those advantages?

  14. In the most recent decades, presidents get reelected at about a 66% rate. Explain whether you believe our current president will be reelected:

  15. Explain whether you believe our current president should be reelected:

  16. You must have a few questions about this chart. Write down a question that comes to mind:

  17. Based on the data, what assumptions would you make about the popularity of Congress today?

Learning Extension

This is a meme about Congressional incumbents.

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Check out Pulitzer Prize winner Politifact's exploration of whether this meme is true.

Action Extension

Think about incumbents and why they win. Think about the Congressional incumbents who represent you (they could be Senators or members of the House). Do a little research on your own personal incumbent and decide whether you should vote for them or not. If you can vote, vote your conscience. If you can't vote, find someone who can and explain whether they should vote for the incumbent or not.

Bonus Charts



Hilarious Animals!

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A Woman's Place Is In The House...Of Representatives

AP US Government and Politics

Which three states have never had a woman representative in the House or the Senate?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. How surprised are you by this information?

  3. How did your own state and district do in regards to female representation?

  4. What story does the map tell?

  5. Do you notice any big geographical patterns in the map?

  6. Explain whether this is a happy map or a sad map.

  7. Why do you think these three states have never had any representation?

  8. What is one consequence of never having elected a female for these three states?

  9. Vermont and Mississippi are about as politically and culturally different as any two states could be. Why do you think they both agree on not having female representatives?

  10. It's been said that the gender of the politician isn't important, what matters are the policies they fight for. In the comments section, explain whether you think this statement is true:

Learning Extension

Check out this great article and interactive map at Vox where you can find out about female representation in your own state and ditrict.

Action Extension

Vote for a woman or convince someone else to vote for a woman. Better yet, lobby your political party (Emily's List for liberals, the NFRW for conservatives) to run women for office. Or best of all, if you are a woman, run for office.

Bonus Maps

This is Not My Beautiful House

AP US Government and Politics

How closely does the US Congress demographically mirror the American people?

Source: Good

  1. What most surprised you about this chart?

  2. What story does this chart tell?

  3. Why do you think the chart is the way it is?

  4. In what way is Congress demographically least representative?

  5. Why does Congress not more accurately mirror the US?

  6. Who does Congress represent?

  7. Who benefits the most from this demographically unrepresentative congress?

  8. Write your own question about this chart:

  9. This data is from the 113th congress. How do you think this information was different in the 1st Congress and how will it be different in the 120th Congress?

  10. In the comments section, describe your version of what the ideal congress would look like.

Learning Extension

Check out this Guardian interactive to find out how much Congress looks like you

Action Extension

Crowdsource your friends for a list of ways to make the US Congress more representative of the US. Share your best idea in class, online or tweet it to @UsGoPoPro


Old Congress, Young You

AP U.S. Old Government and Politics

What is the average age of a member of the U.S. Congress?

AP US Government and Politics    GoPo Pro

AP US Government and Politics

GoPo Pro

  1. How wrong was your prediction?

  2. What trend do you see in the data?

  3. Why do you think Congress is getting so much older?

  4. What is one consequence of having such an old Congress?

  5. Would you want your grandparents or family members of age 60 and up to represent you in Congress?

  6. What are some mechanisms of how elections and parties work that might explain why Congress is so old?

  7. How do you think the age of Congress impacts gun legislation? How different do you think Congress' age would have been at the founding of our nation?

  8. What do do you think is one policy issue that Congress' old age might actually help it tackle?

  9. What is one policy issue that Congress' age might hurt its ability to legislate?

  10. Is this all good news or bad news?

  11. What is the average age of an American?*

  12. If there was a Silver Alert (missing senior) in Congress, how would the Capitol Police know which Congressperson to help????!

  13. What would be some immediate policy changes if the average age of Congress was suddenly equal to that of America = 37.9?

  14. There are age minimum requirements for Congress! What are those age requirements for the House and the Senate?**

  15. How likely is it that Congress will lower its age average requirement?

  16. Why don't we have age maximums?

  17. How different do you think American politics would be if we had 12 year term limits?

  18. Are you surprised that Democrats are older than Republicans?

  19. What do you think is the average age of new members of Congress?***

*37.9 years!

**House = 25; Senate = 30 years!

***Visual Extension


Learning Extension

Read this 538 article about the aging of Congress?

Action Extension

My U.S. House Representative is 74 years young. Contact your Congressional Representative or Senator and ask them how their age impacts how they legislate. If they are young use email. If they are old send a carrier pigeon. Share your correspondence in class or online.


Our World In Data Extension

Our Animals in Clothing Extension


National Emergency Declarations

How many times have presidents declared a national emergency since the National Emergencies Act was passed in 1976?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Since 1976, what type of national emergency declaration was the most common?

  3. the National Emergencies Act, passed in 1976, giving the president power to declare emergency, was passed by what branch?

  4. In your opinion, did that branch give away too much of their power to another branch, thus upsetting the careful balance of powers created by the U.S. Constitution?

  5. If that branch “unpassed” that law, How would they go about it?

  6. Explain whether any other branch could “unpass” the National Emergencies Act.

  7. How many military actions resulted from declarations of national emergency?

  8. Based on this list of every single National emergency declaration since 1976, Were Democratic or Republican Presidents more likely to declare emergency?

  9. Since 1976, the other military action as part of a national emergency was George W. Bush’s declaration of a national emergency on September 14, 2001, in response to the terror attacks of September 11, which ordered troops of the military reserve to assist in national security. Explain whether the terror attacks of September 11 and the current “national emergency” at the border are equivalent emergency threats to national security?

  10. Trump’s Presidential Proclamation of the National Emergency begins with the following line, “The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency." Does that seem like an accurate description of the situation at the southern border to you?

  11. Trump’s proclamation goes on to say, “In particular, recent years have seen sharp increases in the number of family units entering and seeking entry to the United States,” Does a border wall seem like the best solution to this problem?

  12. If there is a security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security why doesn’t the Congress act on this?

  13. Considering that 16 states are already suing the government over the national declaration of emergency. Describe the argument an anti-federalism might make about the president Proclaiming a federal declaration of emergency and taking funds to build a wall?

  14. 32 of the national emergency declarations are still active. Explain whether there Should be a sunset clause to these declarations (a mechanism to automatically end the emergency declaration after a certain time)?


  16. If you were president (I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!!!) Explain whether you would have declared a national emergency at the border.

Learning Extension

Read Trump’s actual Presidential Proclamation of the National Emergency.

Action Extension

Contact your member of Congress and let them know what you think about Trump’s Declaration.

Our World In Data Extension


National Emergency

AP US Government and Politics

What portion of Americans approve of Donald J. Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to build a wall?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Describe public opinion of the Trump Emergency Declaration?

  3. How do you think public opinion on the emergency declaration varies by party affiliation?*

  4. Why do you think the public feels that way about Trump’s national emergency Declaration funding a border wall?

  5. Who does the U.S. Constitution empower to fund things such as interstate highways, n.A.S.A., and border walls?

  6. Does Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution give the president the power to go against the Congress’ wishes and fund a border wall?

  7. President Trump’s power to declare a national emergency and build a wall comes from 33 U.S. Code § 2293 - Reprogramming during national emergencies and 10 U.S. Code § 2808 - Construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or national emergency. Based on your reading of these two short section of the U.S. Code, does Trump’s declaration of an emergency fall within the meaning of that code?

  8. You just made a claim about Trump’s power to declare a national emergency. What institution gets to make a claim about this which carries the rule of law?

  9. There are a number of things Congress could do to stop Trump. What is the most likely thing the Senate and House could do about Trump‘s declaration of a national emergency?

  10. The power of the purse (funding) is a Congressional power laid out in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. COnstitution. The Congress has repeatedly refused to fund a wall. By declaring a national emergency and funding a border wall, president Trump is taking away the funding from congress and giving it to himself. What does this action do to checks and balances?

  11. According to James Madison in Federalist No. 51, Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. Whose ambition is currently counteracting trump’s ambition?

  12. List the top three national emergencies that America faces:

  13. If you had to rank the border, in terms of national emergencies, how high would it rank?

  14. When Americans are asked to name the top national emergencies how high does the border wall rank?*

  15. Explain whether there is a connection between Trump taking such unpopular positions as declaring the border an emergency and his low public approval ratings?

  16. clearly, the president is taking a highly unpopular action. In your opinion, Explain whether this means that Trump is a strong or a weak leader.

  17. explain whether taking such a highly unpopular position makes Trump more of a trustee, delegate, or Politico.

  18. During two years of a Republican controlled Congress, POTUS Trump was not able to convince the legislature to fund his wall, Nor was he able to convince the public of the importance of the wall. Why do you think that is?

  19. President Trump is very good at convincing people of things they already believe in. He has been less successful at convincing people who don’t already agree with him. Explain whether successful presidents (or politicians) are able to convince people to change their minds. Support your argument with examples from american political history.

  20. The House and Senate have rejected the president’s requests for spending for the wall. Many Senators from his own party have publicaly opposed his national emergency declaration. Explain whether you believe the Congress will stop him?

  21. There are already a number of legal challenges to the national emergency Declaration (hear the list below). Where will these challenges ultimately end up and how do you think the SCOTUS will rule on this issue?

VISUAL Extension*


Action Extension

Contact your member of Congress and let them know what you think about Trump’s Declaration.

Our World In Data Extension

State of the State of the Union Address 2019

What has happened to the average number of viewers of the State of the Union Address over the past four presidents?

Infographic: TV Crowds Watching State of the Union Addresses | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista
  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Describe the trend in State of the Union viewership over the past four presidents from the chart?

  3. What best explains this trend?

  4. Describe one consequence of this trend upon American politics.

  5. What tends to happen to State of the Union viewership during each president’s term?

  6. Do you have any reason to think that Trump will reverse this trend?

  7. Claim: When I was a kid, no matter the party of the president, my family almost always watched the State of the Union address. Today, because of extreme partisanship, mostly partisans of the president watch the SOTU Address (Republicans watch Republican Presidents, Democrats watch Democratic Presidents) and the middle (independents) is tuning out (see chart below)*. Is that good for democracy?

  8. What does the U.S. Constitution actually say about State of the Union Address?

  9. Last month, Nancy Pelosi barred Trump from giving his SOTU Address on the usual date. What Constitutional Power allowed her to do that?

  10. How different would the impact of the SOTU be if it were delivered by paper instead of live on TV?

  11. How much does the SOTU actually impact public opinion or public policy?

  12. Would it be a good idea if Trump gave his SOTU by Tweet?

  13. In the future, how do you think Presidents will deliver their addresses?

  14. Claim: The State of the Union is purely ornamental and should be abolished. Respond to this claim.

  15. Were SOTU Addresses longer in the earliest days of the Republic or in the latest? (see chart below)*

  16. In recent years, there has always been a designated survivor (member of the cabinet who would succeed the president in case of his death) who is removed from the SOTU and taken to a safe and undisclosed location in case of catastrophe. Would you want to be this person?

  17. Who was this person in 2019?


Learning Extension

Read this FiveThirtyEight story, 3 Reasons That State of the Union Speeches don’t Matter.

Action Extension

Write your own State of the Union ATweet (summarize the state of the union in 280 characters or less) and share it on in class or on Twitter.

Our World In Data Extension

Church in State

What is the biggest religious group in the U.S. Congress?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the big story this data tells?

  3. What is one consequence of this?

  4. How do you think this impacts U.S. policy?

  5. What most surprised you about the data?

  6. How do you think this data has most changed over the past 20 years?

  7. How different do you think this chart will be in 20 years?

  8. What would this chart have looked like in 1790?

  9. In your opinion, is the increasing Religious diversity of Congress positive or negative?

  10. Which religious group do you think is most over represented in the U.S. Congress and why?*

  11. What is one impact of this over representation?

  12. Claim: Christianity is more over represented in the house than in the Senate. Using the data from the chart, Explain whether the claim is true.

  13. What explains that difference?

  14. How religiously different are the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress?

  15. What explains that difference?

  16. The First Amendment guarantees freedom from religion and freedom of religion. How do you think the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment impacts the US Congress?

Learning Extension

Read the Pew Report on the religious makeup of the 116th Congress.

Action Extension

Contact your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to explain how religion impacts their work. Share their response in class or on line.

Visual Extension

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Bonus (unrelated and completely off-topic) charts

Separated at Birth Extension

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