Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Election Activity
Janell Sowers
US History 1945-Present
Time Frame:
Two 90 minute block periods.
2008 Presidential Election
1948 Election

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Students will work in the computer lab to examine campaign methods of President Harry Truman during the 1948 campaign. They will compare these to methods being used by Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama in 2008.  On Day 2, students will create commercials for President Truman’s 1948 campaign.


Students will be able to see the evolution of politics in the past 60 years and the role of media in these changes.  Also, they will see how things stay the same as well.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • SS.CM.SA.02 Gather, analyze, use, and document information from various sources, distinguishing facts, opinions, inferences, biases, stereotypes, and persuasive appeals. (Oregon Standard)
  • SS.CM.CG.05.01 Identify the responsibilities of citizens in the United States and understand what an individual can do to meet these responsibilities. (Oregon Standard)

Missouri Standards

1. Principles expressed in the documents shaping constitutional democracy in the United States

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

3. Principles and processes of governance systems

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions


Kansas Standards

Benchmark 4: The student identifies and examines the rights, privileges, and responsibilities in becoming an active civic participant.

1. (A) examines the role of political parties in channeling public opinion, allowing people to act jointly, nominating candidates, conducting campaigns, and training future leaders.

2. (K) explains how public policy is formed and carried out at local, state, and national levels and what roles individuals and groups can play in the process.

3. (A) analyzes policies, actions, and issues regarding the rights of individuals to equal protection under the law.

4. (A) examines issues regarding political rights (e.g., to be an informed voter, participate in the political process, assume leadership roles).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • The Story of Harry S. Truman (comic book created by Democratic National Committee).
  • President's acceptance speech, July 15, 1948
  • List of Speeches – June 3, 1948

All available at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/1948campaign/large/docs/index.php

Technology Required:

Enough computers for each student or each pair of students to have access to the internet.  Also, a projector and computer in the classroom for instructions on both days would be helpful.

Full description of activity or assignment.

Day 1:

Class will start with a brief discussion about the current campaign season and what the students see and hear from the candidates and their campaigns.  Make connection to 1948 and Truman’s election with a brief explanation of why Truman was seen as the underdog despite being the current president. 

Hand out to students the Election Comparison chart they will use to fill in their data.  Election Chart (Word) Explain that students will be comparing different methods/strategies used by Truman in 1948 with strategies being used today by McCain and Obama.  On pages 1 and 2, the method/strategy has been selected already.  On page 3, students will analyze Truman’s whistle stop tour and compare it to whatever they choose for McCain and Obama.  This will force them to think on their own even more.

On the screen, show students how to access Truman’s primary documents regarding the election.  Also, give instructions on how to find the current candidates websites with their information as well.  Encourage students to also use other news sources if they find it helpful.

Take students to computer lab and have them complete the Election Comparison chart with the rest of class time with the completed chart being due at the beginning of class on Day 2. 

Move through the computer lab guiding students as necessary.


Day 2:

Class discussion about what they found about different strategies and how effective they were.  Discuss similarities and differences between 1948 and today.

Discuss the advent of television commercials in advertising today.  If possible, show students an example of one from both of the current campaigns.  Explain how television commercials were not an option for President Truman in 1948, but that they are going to create one for him. With the knowledge that they have gained about how he ran his campaign and what the issues were that he focused on, students will produce a commercial in small groups of 3-5.

Requirements would include:

  • a script
  • full group participation
  • props
  • appropriate discussion of the issues
  • time requirement such as 30-60 seconds. 

Give students 30 minutes or so to put it together and then have them perform their commercials for the class.  Students can vote for the one that they believe Truman would be most pleased with.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Students will be responsible to have a fully completed and thoughtful chart completed by the beginning of Day 2.  Students will also need to participate in the produced commercials and receive a grade for the group’s script and efforts in their production.