Build a Candidate

AP US Government and Politics

According to polls, which of the following traits would be the biggest liability for a US presidential candidate: past marijuana use, being gay or lesbian, Mormon, Muslim, or atheist?

AP US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. How surprising was the information in the chart?

  3. How will this information be different for the 2028 election?

  4. Explain whether this information is good news.

  5. Consider all the traits in the chart and evaluate whether each trait would make your vote for a candidate more likely, less likely, or wouldn't matter:

  6. How different was your evaluation of presidential traits from that of the average American's?

  7. What questions do you have about the chart?

  8. The 2016 election was certainly a surprise for a lot of people. How much did the outcome of the 2016 election deviate from what your would expect based on the data in the chart?

  9. How much do you think that the election of Donald Trump (outsider, non-religious, had financial troubles, had affairs, etc.) will impact  the type of future Democratic or Republican candidates who run for office?

  10. List two generalizations you can make about American presidential trait preferences from the information in the chart:

  11. Do you think that the fact that presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is a homosexual will hurt his chances to be president more than the fact that he is only 37?

  12. In the comments section, using the information from the chart, create an extremely unelectable presidential candidate:

Visual Extension


Action Extension

Do one of the following:

  1. Contact the Democratic National Party or the Republican National Party and give them five pieces of advice on nominating a presidential candidate based on the information in the chart:

  2. Write a letter to the American people telling them what they are wrong about regarding their desired traits for presidential candidates. Post it on social media or send it to your local newspaper (if you still have one).

  3. Make a poster or flyer or video advertisement for the unelectable presidential candidate you created in question 9 above.

Learning Extension

Read the entire Pew report on presidential candidate traits.

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Approval Ratings

AP U.S. Government and Politics

Every Day is Presidents Day in GoPo

What president has had the highest approval rating since 1946?

Driven By Data    AP US Government and Politics

Driven By Data

AP US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What story does this chart tell?

  3. What do you think causes presidential approval ratings to generally decline over a presidential term?

  4. Which president had the steepest decline of approval ratings?

  5. Which president had the biggest increase in their approval ratings?

  6. Describe Trump’s approval ratings in comparrison with the other presidents from the chart.

  7. How have rally points impacted recent presidential approval ratings?

  8. Think about how history will impact the future public’s opinion of all the presidents listed in the chart. In other words, 50 years from now, how will we regard these presidents? (That, is will we like each president more or less in the future???)

  9. How do you imagine that falling approval ratings affect the ability of presidents to govern?

  10. How do presidential approval ratings impact midterm elections?

  11. How do presidential approval ratings impact presidential elections?

  12. If you were to add POTUS Trump since his first year in office to this chart what would his approval numbers look like?

  13. What does this chart tell us about the American public?

  14. Describe the economic factors that impact presidential approval ratings.*

  15. What does the chart tell us about political polarization?

  16. They didn’t exactly have polling back then, but what do you imagine George Washington’s approval ratings would have been?

  17. What about Lincoln (think hard)?

  18. Write one question you have about this information:

  19. How do you celebrate Presidents' Day?

  20. In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Freaking Hamilton argues for a strong executive leader, as provided for by the Constitution, as opposed to the weak executive under the Articles of Confederation. He asserts, “energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government. What do you think Hamilton would think about approval ratings and their impact on presidential power?

  21. Explain why Trump’s approval ratings do NOT deviate that much over time. What impact do his static ratings numbers have on American politics.

  22. In the comments section way below, if you were elected president, what would be one thing you could do to immediately improve your approval rating, and what is one thing you could do to make your approval ratings immediately tank?

Visual Extension*


Learning Extension

Check out these Presidential Approval Ratings charts and story from the Pew Research Center. Or follow the daily interactive Trump approval ratings tracker from FiveThirtyEight.

Action Extension

Go to this interactive Wall Street Journal presidential approval ratings chart. Scroll through each president to see their approval ratings, and the inflection points where their approval went up or down. What generally causes approval ratings to fall and what usually causes approval ratings to go up? Contact POTUS Trump with one piece of advice about improving his approval ratings.

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Electoral Votes

How many electoral votes per person does your state have?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this information?

  3. What questions do you have about this map?

  4. What is the big take home message of this map?

  5. Describe the mechanism by which the electoral vote power of some states is greater than others:

  6. Describe the history by which the electoral vote power of some states is greater than others:

  7. What is a consequence of the inequality in electoral college voting power?

  8. Central to the concept of democracy is the idea that all people are politically equal. Some would claim that in a truly democratic country, every person in every state would have the same electoral votes per person (in other words, the color of each state on the map would be the same). Respond to this claim.

  9. Were it the case that every state in the map above was the same color (equal electoral votes per person) who would have won the 2016 Presidential election?

  10. Describe one way our country would be different today had Trump not become president.

  11. The average electoral vote represents 436,000 people, but that number rises and falls per state depending on that state’s population over 18 years of age. Calculate the exact number of people an electoral vote represents in your state.

  12. How does your state compare to others in terms of electoral college power?

  13. How does the map of electoral vote power (above) relate to the map of the percentage of state residents who are white (below)?

  14. Should your power to vote for president be impacted by what state you happen to live in?

  15. If I wanted to increase my presidential electoral power, what state would I most want to move from and what state would I most want to move to?

  16. Overall, Is this map good news or bad news for the U.S.?

  17. If you thought that it was best to get rid of the electoral college, what would be one step towards achieving this goal?

  18. Why hasn't the U.S. abolished the electoral college?

  19. How does this map affect strategy in presidential elections?

  20. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Learning Extension

Read about the fact that the electoral college was created to empower slave states.

Action Extension

The National Popular Vote Plan is a proposal to undo the unequal power of the electoral college. Read about the plan and contact your state legislator to share your opinion of the plan.

Visual Extension

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Oh My Goodness!

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Changes in Spending

AP US Government & Politics

By 2040, what portion of U.S. Federal budget spending will be discretionary

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending?

  3. List two examples of mandatory spending:

  4. List two examples of discretionary spending:

  5. What story do these charts tell?

  6. What is one reason for the changing nature of U.S. federal spending?

  7. What are two consequences of the changing nature of U.S. federal spending?

  8. As discretionary spending gets squeezed, what are some specific discretionary U.S. government programs that you think might get cut?

  9. Describe the general trend in overall (discretionary + mandatory)U.S. government spending?

  10. What specific parts of the government play a major role in creating the budget?

  11. Describe the U.S. Government’s budgetary process.

  12. Let's say that you felt the government was spending too much money on mandatory spending. Is there anything the federal government could do about this?

  13. Overall, is this good news or bad?

  14. Why doesn't the U.S. save money and just stop paying the interest on the debt?

  15. What questions do you have about all this?

  16. In the comments section below, list one program or expenditure that you wouldn't mind seeing cut from the US federal budget.

Visual Extension


Learning Extension

Learn more about the changes in discretionary spending at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Action Extension

Plug in your family information to the tax receipt calculator to see where the federal government spent your family's taxes.

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Executive Orders Phone Home

AP US Government and Politics

Which U.S. President issued the most executive orders ever?

  1. How accurate was your prediction? (Pro Tip: in the future, whenever you are asked to guess which U.S. president did the most of anything just answer FDR!)

  2. What story does this chart tell?

  3. How does President Obama compare to the average number of executive orders issued?

  4. Overall, how do the two major U.S. political parties compare to each other in using executive orders?

  5. What exactly is an executive order?

  6. And why do Presidents issue executive orders instead of getting Congress to pass laws?

  7. Explain where in Article II of the U.S. Constitution (see below) you will find executive orders.

  8. what gives the President the power to issue executive orders?

  9. Why do you think the early U.S. presidents almost never issued executive orders?

  10. Why do you think the use of Executive Orders has decreased so precipitously since the mid-20th century?

  11. What is a consequence of this decrease?

  12. Explain the connection between divided government and the use of executive orders.

  13. Here's a list of all of Barack Obama's executive orders. Explain which one you most agree with and which one you most disagree with:

  14. So far, how many executive orders has Trump signed?

  15. Explain which Trump Executive order you most agree with and which one you most disagree with:

  16. Explain how you think President Trump will compare to other presidents in the use of executive orders.

  17. What can President Trump do to any President Obama Executive Orders he disagrees with?

  18. In Federalist no. 70, Alexander Hamilton argues for a strong executive leader, as provided for by the Constitution, as opposed to the weak executive under the Articles of Confederation. He asserts, “energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks…to the steady administration of the laws, to the protection of property…to justice; [and] to the security of liberty….” What do you think ALexander Hamilton (The 10 dollar
    Founding father without a father…Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter…By being a self-starter, by 14 they placed him in charge of a trading charter
    ) would say about the use of executive orders?

  19. In the comment section below, explain the general effect you believe that executive orders have on the U.S. political system:

Learning Extension

Watch this!


Action Extension

Now that you know a little bit more about how executive orders work, Contact President Trump recommending an issue or topic you'd like him to issue or rescind an executive order on:

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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.

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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

Presidential Rankings

AP US Government and Politics

Presidents Day Edition

According to C-SPAN’s 2017 Presidential survey, who were the top 5 best presidents in American history?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Which president's ranking were you most incorrect about (you can get the whole list here)?

  3. What most surprised you about this list?

  4. Which president's rankings changed the most over the past 17 years?

  5. What leadership characteristics do you think the top five presidents share?

  6. What characteristics do you think the five bottom ranked most ratchet presidents share (you can get the whole list here)?

  7. What characteristics do you think C-SPAN used in ranking the presidents?

  8. What kind of people do you think C-SPAN asked to participate in ranking the presidents?

  9. Explain how different this list would have been if instead of asking experts to rank the presidents, C-SPAN asked random Americans to offer their rankings.

  10. How many presidents do you think the average American can even name?

  11. Okay, how many can you name, hot-shot?

  12. How surprised are you that Obama was ranked the twelfth best president?

  13. What was one event or presidential action responsible for Obama's high ranking?

  14. Do you imagine Obama's ranking will rise or fall over the next 17 years?

  15. Based on his first two years in office, how do you think Donald Trump will be judged by history?

  16. Of all the things President trump has done to make america great again since he has been pOTUS, what are the three most historically significant?

  17. Explain whether there is a connection between approval ratings and presidential rankings.

  18. James Madison was the father of the Constitution and one heck of a lady's man, but he was only ranked as the 17th best president ever. What characteristics that could make someone an elegant thinker and writer might not help them be a good president?

Learning Extension

You can jump all around C-SPAN's rad-badadical interactive presidential ranking page and learn a ton about the presidents!

Action Extension

Rank your top ten most lit presidents and share your rankings in class or online. Be prepared to explain why you ranked these individuals at the tip top.

Lincoln Meme.jpg

Job Opportunity

What political office is the best stepping stone to the Presidency?

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  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about the data?

  3. Which branch of government - executive, legislative, or judicial - is most likely to lead to the presidency?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. Of the offices listed in the chart above, which ones have been occupied by the current president?

  6. One Supreme Court Justice has run for president. Who was it and why do you think that happens so infrequently?

  7. According to Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, To qualify for office, Presidents must be 35, a natural born Citizen, and been a U.S. resident for fourteen Years. Do you like these qualifications or would you like them changed in some way?

  8. Besides the constitutional requirements, what are some other general qualifications or background expectations we have for presidents?

  9. Very few outsiders (people who have never held public office) have become president. Why do you think this is?

  10. What is one consequence of this?

  11. By far, the majority of presidents held public office before becoming president. Explain whether you think that is good or bad.

  12. Based on the chart above and your knowledge of American politics, explain which current Democratic presidential contender you think is most likely to win.

  13. More governors have become president than any of the other offices listed in the chart above. Why do you think that is?

  14. Most presidents who run for reelection win. Why do you think that is?

  15. Explain whether Trump will be reelected president.

  16. The three Presidents who are generally regarded as the best ever are Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin .D. Roosevelt. What offices did they hold before the presidency?

  17. What trend do you see in the following list of the offices held by the most recent presidents?

Nixon Governor

Ford House of Representatives/unelected VP

Carter  Governor

Reagan Governor

Bush Sr. Senator/Vice-President

Clinton Governor

Bush Jr Governor

Obama Senator

Trump Businessperson and Reality TV star

Learning Extension

Read the FiveThirtyEight piece: Which Offices Are Good Stepping Stones To The Presidency?

Action Extension

Explain who you think is going to be the next president, in class or online.

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Political Valentine’s Day 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