Television in Elections


The Television in Elections module is meant to teach students about the history of television influencing elections. As media saturation increases, developing a more sophisticated voter perception for decision-making will be crucial.  To access free printer-friendly PDF versions of lesson plans and worksheets, please subscribe to our email list using the form in the sidebar or bottom of this page.

Lesson plan

Supplies: internet access, paper, pencil, printer

  1. Have the student watch the video How Television Changed Elections.
  2. Give the student a printed copy of the Television in Elections Worksheet. Have the student fill out the worksheet.
  3. Discuss the completed worksheet with the student. The teacher may wish to also complete the worksheet for discussion purposes.
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How Television Changed Elections



RaisingVoters. How Television Changed Elections.

Let’s talk about television and politics.

Did you know that the average American watches 5 hours of television every day?

The first national television channels began broadcasting in 1941 while President Franklin Roosevelt was still in office.

Before television, Roosevelt was famous for his fireside chats over the radio.

The first presidential debate on television was in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

“Good evening. The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for a discussion of issues in the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency.”

A presidential debate is like a fight between two boxers, but instead of trading blows, the two candidates trade mini speeches.

With the first televised debate, people at home go watch for themselves and decide who they thought was the winner.

It turned out that television determined the winner.

According to radio listeners, Nixon had won the debate by a small margin.

On the other hand, television watchers thought that Kennedy had completely beaten Nixon.

Can you guess the reason for this difference?

Yes, something as silly sweat made Nixon look sickly and nervous on television

The sweat was likely a result of the hot studio lights and a last minute poor makeup job.

However, there was more to the story.

Nixon had just spent two weeks in a hospital for an infection and lost 20 pounds.

Kennedy had been campaigning in sunny California and preparing for the debates in a hotel.

In the end Kennedy, won the television debates and the election.

As time went on, television and movies became more important in American life in American elections.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, was originally a Hollywood heartthrob.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became the governor of California in 2003, was best known as a Hollywood action hero famous for his phrase “I’ll be back”.

More recently, Donald Trump won the presidential election of 2016.

While Trump is a businessman, he may be more famous to the average American as the TV host and producer of The Apprentice, with his trademark phrase “You’re fired”.

Today social media and online videos are starting to replace television.

While technology provides better communication, there are concerns too, like the difference between what is online and what is real?

Videos can affect how people vote, but we wouldn’t want a presidential election to become a beauty contest.

So here’s a question for you: how will television and videos influence your political choices?


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Television in Elections Worksheet

As children are not eligible old enough to vote, they are rarely targeted for political messages. Instead, let’s start with consumer messages.

If you had one thousand dollars ($1000), list ten different things you would want to buy.



Where did you learn about these things you want? How many of these things did you see on television, social media, websites, or other sources of media?



Pick one of the items you listed above. Imagine that you are working for the company selling it. How would you convince children your age to buy it? What kind of advertising methods would you use? Try to think of methods that worked on YOU.



Do you or your friends follow any celebrities on social media, subscribe to famous Youtubers, or otherwise track someone famous? Pick one famous person you follow online. What do you like about that person?



Imagine that a celebrity above suggests that you vote for one candidate in an election. Do you think you would vote the same way?



Let’s return to political messages that are targeted at older adults.

Watch an online video of a current politician in office, such as a Senator or the President. From watching the video, how would you describe the person?



Why do you think people voted for the politician in office? Remember, voters are older adults. Try to think the way they would.




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