Lesson Plan

Midterm Elections: How 1994 Midterms Set Off an Era of Divisive Politics

Overview

This 10-minute video provides a case study on the importance of midterm elections by examining the 1994 midterms using two different lesson plans.

Candidates & Campaigns: This lesson asks students to examine historical and contemporary midterm elections and candidates to determine how political issues and media coverage affect a candidate’s success. Students will analyze the 1994 midterm elections and then make connections to the 2022 midterms by examining contemporary candidates from different parties.

Issues and Actions: Students will examine primary sources and secondary sources to analyze how political issues from the 1994 midterm elections affected both that particular election and the current political climate. By analyzing key cultural and political issues from the 1994 election, students will examine polling data, candidate’s campaigns and contemporary news coverage to determine how these issues are still relevant today. Students will also investigate the Contract with America to determine how this platform played a role in the 1994 midterm elections.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Explain how midterm elections are different from presidential elections and why they are important in American politics.
  • Analyze how the changing media landscape affected the functioning of government during and after the 1994 midterm election.
  • Analyze contemporary political issues and identify connections and draw distinctions between the 1994 and 2022 elections.
Subjects
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
Topics
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics
  • Political Parties
  • Lyndon Johnson
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • 1960s America
  • Conservatism
  • 21st Century
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Richard Nixon
  • Civil Rights
  • Race in U.S. History
  • Journalism
  • The Media
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

Midterm elections are often overlooked by voters because presidential candidates are not on the ballot. However, midterm elections are also viewed as a referendum vote on the first two years of a president’s term. Two years into the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Republican Party used the 1994 elections as a referendum on Clinton, as public opposition mounted against his liberal policy efforts on healthcare, gun laws and gay people serving in the military.

The conservative movement, fueled by talk radio, was harnessed by Newt Gingrich, architect of the Contract with America, a blueprint to shrink government and rein in spending. The Republicans used the Contract with America to nationalize the election, a change from the conventional focus on state and local issues. Gingrich assembled a slate of conservative Republicans who swept to victory in the 1994 elections, ending the four-decades-long Democratic majority in the House.

Essential Questions

  • Why are midterm elections viewed as referendums on the first two years of a presidential term?
  • How did the changing media landscape contribute to a divisive political climate in the 1990s?
  • What connections can we draw between the 1994 and 2022 midterm elections?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "Midterm Elections: How 1994 Midterms Set Off an Era of Divisive Politics"Retro Report 
Directory of 2020 U.S. Congressional CandidatesPolitics1.com 
Your Voters' GuideVote411.org 

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.

Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.

Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.

Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com