America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa—a PBS documentary series—tells the story of the changing demographics of the United States through character-driven portraits and in-depth conversations. Host Maria Hinojosa, an award-winning news anchor and reporter, visits communities from Clarkston, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, to examine the impact of demographic changes on local residents.
“The New Deciders” examines the influence of voters from four demographic groups—black millennials, Arab Americans, Latino Evangelicals and Asian Americans. Viewers will meet political hopefuls, community leaders, activists and church members from Orange County, California, Cleveland, Ohio, Greensboro, North Carolina and Orlando, Florida, all of whom have the opportunity to move the political needle, locally and nationally.
In this lesson, students will take notes as they watch “The New Deciders” and think critically about how members of the four demographic groups make decisions about whether and how to vote. They will then select a topic for further research, strategize about ways to encourage voter participation in their communities and plan an action project based on their learning.
- Changing demographics in the U.S. have the potential to change the balance of power between the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as to influence each party’s platform.
- The extent to which a group’s votes are sought or suppressed varies depending on how the group’s interests and affiliations are perceived by people in power or seeking power.
- How are changing demographics influencing U.S. elections?
- What obstacles to voting have been faced by various groups (e.g., women, people living in poverty, African Americans, ex-offenders, immigrants), both legally and in practice?
- How does voter turnout in the U.S. compare with voter turnout in other industrialized countries, and to what effect?
(plural noun) statistics used to describe a group of people. Demographic information might include age, education, gender, sexuality, race, religion or national origin.
Republican Party [ri-puhb-li-kuh n] [pahr-tee]
(noun) One of two major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party is characterized by the principles of free market capitalism and minimal government intervention. The Republican Party is widely considered the more fiscally and socially conservative of the two parties.
Democratic Party [dem-uh-krat-ik] [pahr-tee]
(noun) One of two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic Party is characterized by the principles of political and social equality achieved through government intervention. The Democratic Party is widely considered the more fiscally and socially liberal of the two parties.
evangelicals [ee-van-jel-i-kuh lz]
(plural noun) Christians who believe in the authority of the Bible as the word of God.
GOP [jee oh pee]
(noun) Grand Old Party, a nickname for the Republican Party.
millennials [mil-len-ee-uh lz]
(plural noun) People born between 1981 and 1998 who became adults around the start of the new millennium (which began in the year 2000). This designation is significant because social scientists, marketers and other people who study behavior sometimes attribute particular values and behavior to groups of people depending on when they were born.
primary election [prahy-mer-ee ih-lek-shuh n]
(noun) An election in which each party selects its candidate for the general election.
safe state [seyf steyt]
(noun) A state in which voters consistently choose one party over the other.
swing state [swing steyt]
(noun) A state in which presidential election results are frequently close. In the United States, most campaigning takes place in swing states in order to capture the electoral votes needed to win the national election.
Election Scorecard: Viewer’s Guide
Have students use the “Election Scorecard and Viewing Guide” handout to keep track of the individual viewpoints documented in “The New Deciders.” A teacher’s version of the “Election Scorecard and Viewing Guide” summarizes the information presented in the episode.
The spokespeople for each group are listed in order of appearance. Major figures are marked with an asterisk.
It is not easy to talk about politics in the classroom, particularly when racial, ethnic and religious identities become central topics in a campaign. Involve students in establishing clear guidelines and norms for discussions. Ask them what they need to feel safe expressing their ideas. Let’s Talk! Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics with Students and Speaking Kindness in Democratic Classrooms offer strategies for establishing a safer classroom.
Sample Discussion Questions
- What are the stated political concerns of
each of the four groups featured in the video?
• Black Millennials
• Arab Americans
• Latino Evangelicals
• Asian Americans
- Of these groups, which seem likely to:
• Vote for a Republican
• Vote for a Democrat
• Vote for either
• Vote for neither
Use evidence from the episode to explain your answers.
- Why is it “very hard to peg” Latino evangelical voters?
- Holden Cession, April Parker and Sarah Mohammad talk about refusing to endorse a candidate, choosing not to vote or knowing people who chose not to vote. What reasons do they give?
- Ling Ling Chang, Shawn Steel and Markeece Young say that the Republican Party needs to be more inclusive. What evidence do they cite to explain why Republicans should reach out to communities of color? What efforts are being made to make the party more inclusive?
- The episode documented efforts to engage each group politically. What are these efforts? How are these efforts similar from group to group? How are they different?
- What is the possible short-term outcome if millennials don’t vote in the 2016 presidential election? What are the possible long-term outcomes if large numbers of young people don’t vote?
- How might a large voter turnout of people belonging to any of these groups affect the election in a swing state? How and why are votes sought or suppressed?
Note: You may want to create and post a chart to record the group’s answers.
Have small groups of students select one of the following topics for further research. Ask each group to report their findings to the class. All groups should participate in the “Strategize” and “Take action” activities.
Examine the Presidential Election Results in Your State Over Time.
Use the 270toWin website to research which party’s candidate your state selected in the past 10 presidential elections. Is your state a swing state or a safe state? How does this affect campaign efforts in your state? What do you think of the Electoral College and how it influences the political process?
Review the Voting Data in One of the “New Decider” Groups, and Predict Future Results.
Choose one of the four groups represented in the video. Use the statistics presented, as well as information from other sources about that group’s respective state, to track the following over at least 20 years:
- What percentage of the population in this state was represented by this group 20 years ago? Now?
- Has this percentage changed over time? If so, what was the pattern of the change (e.g., did it change steadily, quickly)?
- What percentage of the people in this group is registered to vote? What percentage voted in the last general election?
- What candidate or party did this group support in the last general election?
- What are the current political interests of this group? What evidence do you have?
- How close was the last general election in this state?
What conclusions can you draw about the potential impact of this group on the 2016 presidential election?
Identify Past Efforts at Voter Suppression.
Download Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot Viewer’s Guide. Read Part Three, pages 18-21, and answer the Focus Questions that follow.
Review New Voting Laws and Identify Groups Most Likely to Be Affected.
Seventeen states have new voting laws in place for the 2016 election. Take a look at the map shown here. How will new laws affect voting in your state?
Read The Brennan Center for Justice's “Why Is It So Hard to Vote in America? And What Can We Do to Fix It?”
What are some barriers that make it difficult to vote in the U.S.? What groups are most likely to be affected? How does voter turnout influence election results? What can be done to combat current efforts at voter suppression?
Investigate Voter Turnout in the United States.
Visit the Pew Research Center website, and review the chart comparing voter registration and turnout in various countries. In each row,
- The blue dot shows the percentage of people of voting age who voted.
- The gold dot shows the percentage of registered voters who voted.
How does registration and voting in the U.S.
compare to other countries?
What are some of the reasons people in the United States might not register?
What are some of the reasons people who are registered might not vote?
What do you think can be done to encourage voter participation in the U.S.?
What other strategies might make the government in the U.S. more participatory?
Consider Ways to Modernize Our Election System.
Read “How To Modernize Our Election System: SPLC Recommendations.” The recommendations begin after the flag photo on this page.
For more information about attempts to modernize voter registration in the U.S., read “The Sometimes Sad State of Voter Registration in America.”
How is voter registration conducted in your state? How does this help or hinder participation? Which of the SPLC’s recommendations do you think would be most effective? Which would be easiest to implement? Why?
Think about ways to encourage voter participation in your community.
- What specific aspect of voter participation do you want to address (e.g., access to polls, outreach to a specific group, vote-by-mail)?
- How can you influence participation by focusing on this aspect?
- What outcomes are you seeking?
- What specific actions can you take to bring about the desired outcomes?
Choose from this list of projects or create a new idea for how you will improve voter registration or voter turnout in your community.
- Publish a public service announcement on social media channels.
- Write letters to local elected officials asking them to prioritize voter participation issues.
- Write and perform a skit designed to teach your community about the importance of voting.
- Create a flyer that supplies voting information (e.g., registration dates, poll locations) to members of the community.
- Create a public mural reflecting the importance of voting rights.
- Create a community bulletin board with information and directions on how to register to vote.
- Organize a neighborhood voter registration day.
- Organize a local march to raise awareness about local political issues, introduce candidates and promote voter registration.
- Research how you can help local organizations that are already registering voters and supporting issues that concern you and your community.
Related TT Resources:
Check out other America by the Numbers episodes and their accompanying lessons.