Students watch a video about Jimmy Carter and the Iowa Caucus. They learn about Carter’s surprising success in the state and consider how the Iowa Caucus impacts the Presidential election. Students design a poster or create a slogan Carter could have used to specifically target Iowa farmers.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa Unit 9 | Activities for Grades 8–12." This unit is comprised of activities for 8th grade and high school students. In this unit, students will explore the environmental, historical, and political factors that characterize the state of Iowa.
H.SS-Gov.9-12.27: Compare and contrast the institutions and systems of Iowa government and politics that are unique to the state including but not limited to Iowa’s unique role in presidential selection and in the special status of Meskwaki lands as non-reservation lands.
- Video: Iowa Caucus History: Jimmy Carter Connects with Iowans in 1976
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show videos to the class
- Poster board or plain white paper
- Pens, markers, crayons, or colored pencils
- Introduce the Iowa caucus process. Explain that for every Presidential election, the first primary event in the country is held in Iowa. The caucuses are part of the nominating process for President of the United States. Residents in each county meet to elect delegates who eventually go on to presidential nominating conventions.
- Tell students they will watch a video about how Jimmy Carter campaigned in Iowa for the 1976 election. As they watch, they should consider the numerous keys to Carter’s success in Iowa depicted in the film.
- Play the video, Iowa Caucus History: Jimmy Carter Connects with Iowans in 1976. [6:28]
- Ask students to list the many reasons that Carter did surprisingly well in the 1976 Iowa caucus:
- He was a farmer, like many Iowans
- He had strong interpersonal skills (friendly, affable)
- He was self-confident
- He was skilled at “retail politics” (a style of political campaigning in which the candidate attends local events in order to target voters on a small-scale or individual basis.)
- He sought out local media
- He earned national media attention
- He was “disassociated” from trouble in Washington, D.C.
- After the Iowa caucus, Carter’s support continued to grow, even though he was relatively unknown. Ask students to think about which of the characteristics that helped Carter in the Iowa caucus may not have worked in other states. [Being a farmer may not have helped in non-agricultural states; skill at “retail politics” may not be as important in more urban states.]
- Ask students to draw conclusions about the benefits Iowa enjoys as the first in the nation primary event. [Iowans can give candidates important momentum, so candidates need to address the issues that are particular to the state to win this early race.] Are there any disadvantages? [Perhaps Iowa’s influence fades too quickly in primary season; perhaps Iowans must choose among untested candidates; perhaps the choice of Iowans may drop out if results are poor elsewhere; etc.]
- Have students design a poster or create a slogan for the 1976 Carter Campaign. The poster should highlight his appeal to Iowa farmers.