Third-party Voices

From Vote Democracy! collection, lesson plan 2 of 7

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Government, Political Science, Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology

Purpose of the lesson:The dominant, two-party system of political parties in the United States is ripe for classroom investigation. This lesson provides an opportunity for students to consider the role and possibilities for independent parties in a democracy. The lesson also opens up the lens to view the political systems in other countries.


Students will:

  • learn about the political party system in the United States
  • analyze and critically view film as text
  • discuss in groups and as a class
  • exercise collaborative group skills


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing, critical reading and viewing, researching, note taking, oral presentation


  • Board or overhead projector
  • chart paper
  • An Unreasonable Man “Third Parties” Film Module
  • An Unreasonable Man Discussion Guide
  • Student Handout B

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.


  1. Distribute Student Handout B: Anticipation Guide to students to complete as a warm up.

    Have the class share with a “thumbs up/thumbs down” and then call on a few students from each perspective to add other views or information.

  2. Have students form small groups to read and discuss the speech by Howard Ditkoff, “Third Parties: Bringing Color and Flavor to American Politics,” using these guiding questions:

    • How would you feel if you could only choose between two flavors of ice cream or colors of cars?
    • How do you think some other countries are able to have more political parties represented?
    • Do you agree or disagree with Ditkoff? Why or why not?
  3. View An Unreasonable Man “Third Parties,” in which Nader is denied entry to the Presidential Debates in Boston. Debrief with these questions:

    • Why was Nader excluded from the debate? Why was he denied entry as a spectator?
    • Why might Nader’s Raiders for Gore and the Commission on Presidential Debates want to prevent Nader from campaigning for president?
    • How did Nader respond? Was his response effective? How else might he have responded?

    Present the following quotations from An Unreasonable Man as a vehicle for discussion. Use the quotes to provide context and opposing viewpoints to the previously mentioned scene.

    • “If you look at the numbers in Florida alone, I think it’s safe to say that Ralph Nader denied Al Gore a clean victory in Florida. It may be true in other cases as well. But, uh, he has had a consequential impact on this presidential election.” — Tom Daschle, Senator (D-South Dakota)
    • “You can invent all kinds of excuses, uh, as to why other people are responsible. Bill Clinton is responsible because he didn’t carry Arkansas. Al Gore is responsible because he didn’t carry Tennessee. One man could have stopped it. That’s Ralph Nader. He chose not to…. I think Nader intended to be a spoiler. I think Nader is a Leninist. He thinks things have to get worse before they get better.” — Eric Alterman, columnist, The Nation
  4. As a class, read the Douglas Amy article “Voting System Reform Can Solve the Spoiler Problem,”. Discuss using these guiding questions:

    • What does it mean for a third-party candidate to play a “spoiler” role?
    • Why does Amy think plurality voting is unfair? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
    • What is the difference between instant-runoff voting (IRV) and proportional representation (PR)?
    • How have some countries successfully used alternative voting systems?
    • Should the U.S. adopt voting systems such as IRV or PR? Why or why not?
  5. Assignment: In small groups have students select a country to research that uses other forms of voting and representation in government. For example, IRV in Ireland and Australia, PR in Germany, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Denmark. They could also research countries that predominantly use plurality voting such as Great Britain, Canada and Hungary. Some good resources online include Instant Runoff Voting’s In the News page, which provides links to several news and opinion pieces, and FairVote’s links pages to International Full Representation Organizations and IRV in Practice for articles featuring many countries.

  1. Research independent political parties in the U.S.: their platforms, constituencies, impact and representation in local and national politics.

  2. Develop proposals for how presidential debates should be conducted. They should include details such as who can participate, location and number of debates. They should also include information about format, such as the agenda, timing, moderation, panel selection, and questions. The text resource is from Open Debates, a nonprofit committed to reform of the presidential debate process.

  3. Research local elections in the U.S. in which third parties have been successful in winning or securing a large percentage of the vote.

  4. The format for presidential debates continues to evolve and adapt, especially with the rise of such media sources as political weblogs, YouTube, MySpace and other somewhat more traditional venues as National Public Radio. Research how current presidential candidates are getting their message across and analyze the impact and usage of technology. Write an opinion editorial evaluating the pros and cons of the rise of technology in election campaigns and predict how campaigns and debates will be conducted in the future.

  • Film module:
    An Unreasonable Man: Third Parties
Download lesson materials