LESSON PLAN for The Encyclopedia of Democracy
Congressional Quarterly Books

POLITICAL ALIENATION

Objectives

Students will be able to:

* define and cite reasons for political alienation;
* identify their own level of political alienation;
* design, administer, and analyze the results of a public opinion poll;
* suggest ways to address the problem of political alienation.

Resources

* "Civil society," "Political alienation," "Polling, Public opinion," and "Protest movements" articles in The Encyclopedia of Democracy
* Sample public opinion polls
* Handouts 9­12


The following activities focus on the concept of political alienation. The activities may be implemented separately or in conjunction with one another. Customize the lesson plan to meet the needs and interests of your class.

Activity A

Introduce the Concept

To introduce the concept of political alienation, lead a discussion wherein students examine the role government plays in their lives. Brainstorm for examples of the types of interaction the typical teenager has with local, state, and federal government. Record a variety of responses on the board, from paying sales tax at a department store to obtaining a driver's license. Call on volunteers to share their interactions with government.

Poll students for their general views of local and federal governments. Distinguish between feelings about specific officials within government and feelings about the institutions and laws themselves. Ask them if a negative feeling or attitude about the government would affect their willingness to obey laws, exercise their right to vote, or participate in government.

Explain that even in a democracy, where the government is chosen by the people, some citizens may have a sense of political alienation. Political alienation describes the distance perceived by individuals between their government and themselves. Tell students that during the 1992 presidential election, about 43 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 voted. Discuss possible reasons for low voter turnout among young people.

Display the political cartoon above. What symbols are used to illustrate democracy? Political alienation? What connection does the cartoonist make between the strength of a democracy and the level of political alienation among its citizens? Do students agree or disagree with the cartoonist's point of view? Why?

Activity B

Read about Political Alienation

Distribute copies of Citizen Handout 9, an excerpt from the article "Political alienation" in The Encyclopedia of Democracy. Have students complete the reading comprehension questions individually and then discuss the answers as a class or in small groups.

Activity C

Identify Cause and Effect

Make and distribute copies of Citizen Handout 10: Political Alienation, Yesterday and Today. Instruct students to work with a partner to answer the questions, using the complete entry for "Political alienation" in The Encyclopedia of Democracy and their own knowledge of current events.

Activity D

Write a Journal Entry

Ask students to think of a scenario that might result in a sense of political alienation. Discuss a few examples as a class and have each student write down an original example.

Following are examples of scenarios that could lead to a feeling of political alienation.

* Harry, 52-years-old, has voted in every presidential election since he turned 21. His candidate has never won.

* Brenda refuses to pay her income tax in protest of certain government policies. She is audited and fined by the IRS, then arrested when she doesn't pay her fine.

* Lisa volunteers every Saturday and Sunday for three months to help elect candidate Smith to office. Candidate Smith is arrested for drunk driving the week before the election.

Collect the scenarios and redistribute them. Have students write a journal response to the scenario each has been given. Use the following as writing prompts.

* How would you feel in this situation?

* How could the situation have been prevented?

* How might this scenario affect your attitude toward the government?

Activity E

Design and Conduct a Poll

Reproduce Citizen Handout 11: Rating Political Trust and distribute two copies to each student. Instruct students to record their responses on one copy.

Next, help students prepare to administer the survey to others. Display sample opinion polls published in newspapers and magazines for students to examine and use as models. Distribute copies of Citizen Handout 12: Designing and Conducting a Survey and discuss different polling techniques. Should respondents complete the questionaire in writing or answer the questions orally? Discuss the pros and cons of different methods and agree on one to use. Suggest that students gather related personal data from survey respondents to help them analyze the results. For example, information about whether or not the respondent voted in the last election may illuminate the results.

To wrap up, ask students which polling method they think was used to obtain the survey results on political alienation described in the entry in The Encyclopedia of Democracy. What type of statistical data was gathered?

Activity F

Analyze the Results of a Poll

Help students to compile and analyze the results of the public opinion poll. Consider analyzing the responses of the class separately from the responses of other respondents. Use these questions to guide the class.

* What trends in the levels of political alienation do you observe?

* Do you think alienation observed today is a frustration with government officials or with institutions of government?

* What factors appear to impact a person's attitude toward government?

* What are the possible consequences of political alienation in a democracy?

Compare the results of the class survey with the one described in The Encyclopedia of Democracy. How are the results of your class surveys and those described in the article similar? How are they different?

One of the consequences of political alienation may be that people will not willingly participate in the political system of our country. Conclude with a discussion of the following questions.

* What motivation do we, the people, have for participating politically?

* What are the deterrents?

* What steps, if any, should the government take to encourage political participation by citizens who have become disillusioned with the process?

Compare and Contrast Levels of Political Trust

Ask students to reread the article "Political alienation" in The Encyclopedia of Democracy. How do the levels of political alienation in other countries compare to those measured in the United States? How do levels of political mistrust differ in non-democratic countries such as China and the former Soviet Union?


Curricular Connections

The following activities are designed to integrate the topic of political alienation into varied disciplines.

Language Arts: Persuasive Writing

Tell students that they have been asked to deliver a commencement speech at their high school graduation challenging their fellow graduates to become involved citizens. Ask them to draft a speech in which they address the problem of political alienation, the consequences of political mistrust, and steps individual citizens can take to "reconnect" to their government.

Art: Create a Political Cartoon

After determining their own and others' level of political alienation, have students draw and write the caption for a political cartoon that illustrates one of the causes or effects of political alienation.

Math: Construct Graphs

Challenge students to present statistical data in the article "Political alienation" or the data collected in their polls in a graph such as the one below. Have them write questions that can be answered by reading the graph.


Citizen Handout 9

From "Political alienation," The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Congressional Quarterly Books

A feeling of separation from or nonconnectedness with a political system, or active hostility toward it. The concept of alienation has a long intellectual history, entering social science through Karl Marx's early writings. Marx (1818­1883) believed that industrial workers were oppressed by the mode of production, "alienated" from the work process and the products of their own labor. Consequently, workers became estranged both from themselves and from other human beings.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, as political protest became an increasingly important means of political expression and participation, and many people complained of an inability to affect government policies, some social scientists began to view ideas about the alienation of industrial workers as analogous to the way in which disaffected citizens perceived their relationship to government. Terms such as powerlessness and normlessness were used to describe political attitudes--powerlessness as the inability to influence government and normlessness as a feeling that political norms had broken down or that leaders did not observe them. . . .

Political Alienation and Support in the United States

Public opinion polls in the United States show that political trust has declined markedly since the 1960s. In 1964, for example, 77 percent of white Americans and 74 percent of African Americans said that the government does what is right "just about always" or "most of the time," and 63 percent of whites and 69 percent of African Americans thought that the government was run for the benefit of all. By 1992, however, only 29 percent of whites and 26 percent of blacks thought the government did what was right that often, and only 21 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks thought the government was run for the benefit of all. . . .

Another popular measure of political support . . . is a question on confidence in institutions. For example, the Gallup Poll asks: "Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one--a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little." In recent polls Americans have generally ranked political institutions lowest and the military, churches, and police highest. But the long-term trend is clear: Americans' confidence in almost all social and political institutions has declined. . . .

As far as what these high levels of political alienation and low levels of political support imply. . . some insight is provided by David Easton's proposition that there are three basic "objects," or levels, of a political system. The first is the "political authorities," the incumbents of political offices, such as members of legislative bodies or the chief executive of a nation. The second is the "political regime," a system's basic norms and values (such as beliefs in equality, freedom, individualism, achievement, or the work ethic), the "rules of the game" for making political decisions (including the basic documents of a nation, such as the U.S. Constitution), and a system's institutions, such as its parliamentary system or the U.S. Congress and the presidency. . . Finally, Easton distinguished the "political community," the people who make up the political system and consider themselves subject to the same political decisions.

Thinking of the political system in this way, it is clearly important to understand which of these three levels people are thinking about when they respond to questions designed to measure their political trust or confidence. After all, it is relatively easy to change the political authorities, as compared with changing the political regime or community. Some scholars believe that when Americans answer in the negative ways, common since the early 1970s, they are thinking of the particular people running the government at the time. According to those who hold this view, these low levels of trust do not mean that Americans have lost faith in the broader aspects of the U.S. political system. Other scholars believe that the low levels of trust that polls have found imply at least some loss of faith in political institutions. . . .

Ada W. Finifter, Michigan State University
from The Encyclopedia of Democracy
Congressional Quarterly Books

Directions: Answer the following questions, using information presented in the reading to support your answers. Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

1. What is political alienation?

2. How has the feeling of political trust changed in the U.S. from 1964 to 1992?

3. Identify three levels of a political system. How does this view of a political system provide insight into the reasons for political alienation?


Citizen Handout 10

Political Alienation: Yesterday and Today

Directions: Several aspects of political alienation are described in The Encyclopedia of Democracy. Support each cause or effect listed below with a specific example cited in the encyclopedia article. Then cite a current event or issue that illustrates the problem.

Causes of Political Alienation

1. Citizens become frustrated with the laws or institutions.

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:

2. Citizens become frustrated with the people in government.

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:

Effects of Political Alienation

3. A third party candidate gains in strength.

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:

4. Steps are taken to "throw the rascals out."

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:

5. Campaigns focus on trust and character rather than on policy issues.

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:

6. Citizens attempt to change the "rules of the game" in order to gain their policy goals.

Example used in The Encyclopedia of Democracy:

Evidence of existence today:


Citizen Handout 11

Rating Political Trust

Directions: How do you rate your level of political trust and confidence on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest)?

Circle your answer. Then cite reasons for your answer on the lines provided.

1. Rate your trust of the people who are running the federal government today.

1 2 3 4 5

2. Rate your confidence in the institutions of government.

1 2 3 4 5

3. Rate your trust in the process for making political decisions.

1 2 3 4 5

4. Rate your power to impact government policy. In other words, if you tried to change something, do you think you could have some success in doing so?

1 2 3 4 5

5. Rate your satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States at this time.

1 2 3 4 5

6. Review your answers to the previous questions. Rate your level of political trust and confidence on a scale of 1 (strong feeling of alienation) to 5 (strong confidence).

1 2 3 4 5


Citizen Handout 12

Designing and Conducting a Public Opinion Poll

Directions: On your own or with a partner design and conduct a public opinion poll on levels of political trust and confidence. You may use the questions in Citizen Handout 11, questions cited in the "Political alienation" article in The Encyclopedia of Democracy, or you may design a questionnaire of your own. Here are the steps you need to follow.

1. Choose Your Sample Decide on the group of people and the number of people within that group that you want to poll. One sample group will be your class. Another group might be first-time voters, ages 18 to 21. Name some groups who might have something special to say about politics and trust in government.

2. Prepare a Questionnaire The questionnaire on Citizen Handout 11 has been designed to produce accurate answers that can be tabulated easily. The directions are clearly stated and the questions have been carefully worded to avoid biasing the participant and slanting the responses.

When designing your own questionnaire, word your questions carefully. Avoid strong, positive words that may bias a participant's response, for example: "Do you think President Clinton in doing a terrific job in foreign affairs?" Also avoid negative or "loaded" wording: "Why is President Clinton unwilling to compromise on the issue of health care?" Create objective questions that are easy to understand and will elicit clear-cut answers.

3. Conduct the Poll Decide how, when, and where to administer your poll. Will you poll participants in person? By telephone? By mail?

No matter the method, be sure to explain the purpose of the poll and ask the participant for permission to administer the questionnaire. After the participant has completed the questionnaire, you may want to ask for related personal data such as age, political party affiliation, and if he/she voted in the last presidential and midterm elections. Once again, ask participant's permission to do so.

4. Compile Your Results Carefully tabulate the results of all your questionnaires. Present your findings clearly and succinctly as a summary, table, or graph.