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Classroom Resources: What makes a good presidential candidate?

This lesson explores the process of researching candidates, understanding issue positions, and casting an informed vote.


Key concepts/standards

  • Accept and fulfill responsibilities associated with citizenship in a free society 
  • Discriminate to select the most worthwhile and trustworthy sources 
  • Recognize author bias; recognize propaganda 
  • Understand how personal beliefs are expressed through political values 

Discussion questions

Why is it important to research a candidate’s background and issue positions?

What are some trusted resources for researching candidates? What makes a source trustworthy?

Are statements directly from a candidate a useful source of information?

What is important when deciding who to vote for? For example… 

  • Professional experience?  
  • Voting records?  
  • Stated issue positions?  
  • Where funding is coming from?  
  • Personal life?  
  • Performance in a debate?  
  • Party loyalty?  
  • The ability to work with other people?  
  • The ability to stand up to opponents? 

Questions related to lesser-known candidates 
What makes a “viable” candidate versus a lesser-known candidate? How are these candidates different? Is it money (what about people like Doug Burgum, who are mostly self-funded)? Or does experience make the difference (what about Pete Buttigieg, back in 2016, whose highest office was mayor)? 


Have students select a candidate, then summarize the candidate’s background and where they stand on at least three important issues. Each student can present this information to the class.

Alternatively, have students create a brief questionnaire they would like to give the presidential candidates. These questions could focus on issue positions, experience, or other attitudes. Have students explain why each question is important to their voting decision. Then have students research how three candidates would likely answer their questions.  


Don’t want things to get too spicy? Focus on New Hampshire’s lesser-known presidential candidates.  

A candidate research activity pairs very well with either a mock presidential primary or the creation of campaign advertisements. Students can present information about the candidates before the class votes or creates ads.

You can repeat this lesson using federal or state candidates every election year. Citizens Count will always profile every candidate for state and federal office in New Hampshire.

The New York Times offered structure for a similar lesson on candidate research in 2012.

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