Grade 9-12

Party Platforms and Economic Issues

Updated: October 4 2016,
Author: Scott Bacon

According to Gallup, Americans have considered the state of the economy “among the most important U.S. problems” since 2008. The issues frequently debated leading up to any presidential campaign include many economic issues such as improving the economy, how to reduce unemployment, the federal deficit, and taxes. Similar topics have highlighted many of the debates leading up to the 2016 election.

During the party nominating conventions in presidential election years, each political party creates a party platform reflecting its values, aims, and principles. These documents frequently give detailed insight into how presidential candidates perceive economic issues and what their priorities are when/if they get elected. This kind of information helps voters better understand the differences between candidates so they can cast their ballots for the candidate who most closely reflects their stance on the major issues.


Students are introduced to the concepts of liberal and conservative and the association of these with the Democrats and Republicans. Using the party platforms, groups of students determine whether different quotes about economic issues came from the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ platform.  Students use the platforms to compare and contrast the views of the parties.  An economic ideology chart is then completed using issues that are discussed by both parties.  Finally, students, in an optional activity, arrange quotes from 2016 candidates into the correct party/ideology.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the major economic policy platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • Analyze how liberal and conservative policies differ in terms of current economic issues in the election cycle.

Resource List


  1. Introduce the lesson by asking students what they think the meanings of Conservative and Liberal are.
    Answers will vary, but guide students to economic interpretations
  2. Display Slide 1.1 and ask students if they can give examples of some political or economic issues that conservatives might feel are important.
    Answers will vary but might include: reducing or eliminating many kinds of taxes 
  3. Display Slide 1.2 and ask students if they can give examples of some political or economic issues that liberals might feel are important.
    Answers will vary but might include: advocating for a higher living (minimum) wage
  4. Ask students if they can identify some of the economic issues from the 2016 presidential campaigns and what each party believes about those issues.
    Answers might include:
    taxes – raise or lower
    minimum wage – raise or keep same
    healthcare – continue with or repeal

  5. Define a party platform as a list of values, principles and goals published by political parties in order to inform the public and gain their support and ultimately their votes. Every four years during the party nominating conventions, party leaders meet to discuss and create an updated platform of their position on the current issues upon which their presidential candidate will run. The platforms also outline the basic strategies of the parties. But what are the Democratic and Republican positions on basic economic issues? Tell students this is what they will be investigating next.
  6. Tell students they are going to analyze quotes from the most recently available party platforms and determine if each quote is part of the Democratic platform or the Republican platform.
  7. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each student a copy of Activity 1. Give each group a copy of Activity 2 and Activity 3.
  8. Tell students to read through the Party Platform Quotes and identify which quote corresponds with which party using the Party Platforms as a reference. In the Party column, students should write an R in the blank if they believe the quote is from the Republican Platform or a D if they believe the quote is from the Democratic Platform. If students are able to locate the text in the party platforms, they should indicate this in the Paragraph column. Answer key
  9. After they have completed Activity 1, ask students to suggest possible general classifications of the economic issues covered by the quotes.  Write the general classifications on the board.
    Answers will vary, but students will probably come up with issues such as taxes, jobs, trade, etc.
  10. Using information in Activity 1, ask students what the Republicans and the Democrats generally believe about those economic issues. Have students refer to specific text in Activity 2 and Activity 3 to support their answers to resolve any disagreements.
  11. Ask students to describe the differences and the similarities in the party platforms. Ask them which party is conservative and which is liberal.
    A similarity might be that both parties seem to “care” about the middle class.
    Another similarity might be that both parties want to lower taxes for some groups.
    A difference might be that Republicans want to reduce union influence while Democrats want to enhance it. Another difference might be that Republicans prefer to only fund limited government while Democrats want to fund services such as health care and college education.

  12. Give each student a copy of Activity 4. Have students copy the economic issues from the board in the middle column of the chart and work in partners to complete the chart. The students should write a brief statement about each party’s stance on the topic in the middle column. Check that students filled out the chart completely.
    Economic issues that students might use include concepts from the lessons such as minimum wage, trade, government spending, etc. 
  13. Display Slide 1.3, which contains suggested answers. Have students check their Activity 4 chart against the information about Republicans.
  14. Display Slide 1.4, which contains suggested answers. Have students check their Activity 4 chart against the information about Democrats.


  1. What does it mean to have a conservative economic view?
    See Slide 1.3
  2. What does it mean to have a liberal economic view?
    See Slide 1.4
  3. Have students explain what a party platform is and what it is used for.
    A list of values, principles and goals published by political parties in order to inform the public and gain their support and ultimately their votes.
  4. What are the basic economic beliefs of the Republican Party?
    Answers might include lower taxes, reduce overall government spending, reduce regulations, abolish minimum wage, privatize healthcare.
  5. What are the basic economic beliefs of the Democratic Party?
    Answers might include raise taxes on the wealthy, increase minimum wage, maintain or increase healthcare coverage, increase spending on social programs.
  6. How are the basic economic beliefs similar? How are they different?
    Answers will vary but emphasize while the parties both believe they are doing what is best for the United States, how this should be done differs between parties.
  7. (OPTIONAL) Give each student a copy of Activity 5. Tell students you have given them a list of quotes attributed to different presidential candidates from both parties during the 2016 campaign. Students are to determine the party of the candidate who said each quote. Students should circle the letter of the correct political party. Extra credit might be given if a student can determine which candidate said the quote.

    Hillary Clinton (D) – #4, 6, 12, 15

    Bernie Sanders (D) – #1, 10, 13

    Martin O’Malley (D) – #7

    Ted Cruz (R) – #2, 8

    Jeb Bush (R) – #5

    Donald Trump (R) – #3, 14

    Chris Christie (R) – #11, 16

    Ben Carson (R) – #9

  8. Go over the answers to Activity 5 with the class and discuss how similar or different these 2016 opinions are to the platforms. Are there issues being focused on by candidates from different parties where there might be agreement?
    Teachers might point out how highly unusual this election cycle has been. Teachers must stay current on the candidates' positions on issues such as trade, minimum wage and taxes on the wealthy. 
  9. (OPTIONAL) Have students work with a partner to provide a list of five (5) economic debate topics/questions they would use if they were to host the first presidential debate for the 2016 election. Review their questions as a class.
    Answers will vary, but students should refer to the issues they used on their Ideology Chart to form questions for both parties. Sample questions might include:

    Republican X, how do you feel about raising the minimum wage so low income workers will have more money to pay their bills?

    Democrat Y, why do you feel that wealthy people should pay higher taxes so that more people can have healthcare coverage?

  10. (OPTIONAL) Have students write a policy recommendation based on an economic issue that outlines relevant economic arguments about that issue.
    Possible policy recommendations might include:
    Economic argument of the inefficiency of price floors for abolishing minimum wage.
    Economic argument of lowest opportunity cost for establishing free trade.

Extension Activity

Extension Activity not available.


Multiple Choice

  1. A party platform

    1. explains the background of each presidential candidate
    2. lists the successes and failures of each candidate
    3. defines the goals and principles of each political party
    4. explains the role of the president in government
  2. Which of the following issues would a Republican tend to support?

    1. a balanced budget to control spending
    2. raising taxes to increase social spending
    3. increased regulations for small businesses
    4. establishing a higher minimum wage
  3. Which of the following issues would a Democrat tend to support?

    1. raise taxes on the middle class
    2. lower taxes for the wealthy
    3. provide universal healthcare
    4. abolish unions for public employees

Constructed Response

Choose two current economic issues and analyze how liberals and conservatives have different views on the causes/solutions to those issues.
Answers will vary; however, many will choose taxes, minimum wage or overall spending as the current issues. Students should be able to explain the party platform on each issue and relate that stance back to liberal or conservative ideology (i.e. students need to explain why Republicans want to reduce taxes or why Democrats favor raising the minimum wage, based on their different ideological views.) Allowing students to refer back to the Party Platforms and cite specific text as evidence is recommended.

Social Studies