A Technological Revolution in Politics: From Television to the Internet

A Technological Revolution in Politics: From Television to the Internet
Laura Bush: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One Week


Technology has always had a place in politics—from simple campaign buttons and broadsides to the advent of television, when debates such as those between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 heavily influenced the outcome of the election.  Today the Internet with its e-mail, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and podcasting is changing how politics is conducted.  During the 2004 primaries while First Lady Laura Bush campaigned for her husband’s re-election, a democratic presidential contender, Howard Dean, utilized the Internet to collect funds from companies and individual citizens.  This idea of citizens using the Internet to communicate and coordinate movements such as campaign finances is known as Internet Activism. 


Students will research the development of communications technology from the 1950’s to the present, then research the ways in which those developments were used in the presidential elections in 1960 and 2004, comparing and contrasting this use and the outcomes of it.

Materials Required:

Computer with Internet access, books, magazine, newspapers, paper, pen or pencil, paper for timeline, printer, art supplies, poster board. 


1.  Introduce the lesson by discussing with students the role of technology in their lives.  Ask students to name all the digital technology that they use every day to communicate with one another or get information or access entertainment.  Write everything named on the chalkboard.
2.  Then, ask students to think about what this technology has in common that provides value to users.  Chances are, students will list four or five values: convenience, connection, speed, and, possibly, community.  Suggest to students that these values might be at work in other aspects of societal life—in politics, for example.
3.  Divide students into six groups, assigning each group the task of researching the decades from 1950 to 2006 on the First Ladies Timeline, looking for advances in digital technology.
4.  With their findings, students should construct a visual timeline by finding (or drawing) the image of a particular technology and typing a summary paragraph about it.  The year will be written in on the timeline and the students can contribute their piece(s) throughout the week.
5.  Individually, students will research the election of 1960 when the technology of television came into widespread political use, and the election of 2004 when Internet technology was widely used in political campaigning. 
6.  Each student should then compose a two to three page paper to compare and contrast the two elections, the technologies used in each election, and whether or not the technology impacted or changed the outcome of the election. Students should share their papers with one another, perhaps in a symposium format.
7.  Conclude the lesson with a class discussion about the influence of technological developments on politics, and elicit their projections about the uses of technology in future elections.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by following the next election on the Internet and noting how aspects such as blogs are contributing to the political landscape.

Sources & Resources:


Bimber, Bruce.  Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power. London: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Mazarr, Michael J. Information Technology and World Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.


Examples of Political Commercials, 1952-Present

Politics and the Internet

Internet Activism on Wikipedia


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.