Grade 9-12

Political Beliefs and the Federal Budget

Time: 90 mins,
Updated: October 23 2020,


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze how political philosophies influence the federal budget process.
  • Explain how differing political philosophies are based on real differences of opinion about how the country should be governed.
  • Examine sources for information and evaluate where they corroborate, complement, or contradict each other.

In this economics lesson, students will examine political forces influencing the federal budget.



Ask students what they know about politics. (While answers will vary, they should be able to identify differences in how people vote or view economic conditions.) Explain that this lesson will help them understand more about that process and how it affects the overall economy. Use the slide presentation Political Beliefs and the Federal Budget to help explain the concepts. Show students Slide 2. Ask students to consider the meaning of the cartoon shown here. You may need to guide their discussion with the following questions: Who do the elephant and the donkey represent? (The elephant represents the Republican Party, and the donkey represents the Democratic Party.) Who are the onlookers? What do they seem to saying? (The female describes the action as “The Dance of Democracy!,” but the male disagrees. He appears to be dressed as a professional wrestler, and his comment indicates that he believes that the “dancers” are actually fighting. Note: Teachers may need to explain to students that Fred Astaire was a famous dancer.) What point is this artist making about the political parties in the United States? (Answers will vary, but should indicate that part of the “dance of democracy” is the struggle between groups with different political ideologies.) Do you believe the general public would agree or disagree with the artist’s opinion? (Answers will vary, but most will probably agree.) Remind students that political beliefs and philosophies can differ greatly within families within organizations and within nations — and those differences can lead to a variety of outcomes. Display Slide 3. Discuss the meaning and possible motivation of the statement. Explain that this statement was made on February 18, 1958 by John F. Kennedy at the Loyola College Alumni Banquet in Baltimore, Maryland. In this speech, he called for citizens with different political philosophies to seek common ground and work together to guide the nation into the future.


Tell students that today they will be examining how political philosophy influences the federal budget process. Display Slide 4. Explain problems with modern-day political and economic debates that are highly partisan. While each party’s reluctance to give in is somewhat predictable, it still stalls the processes necessary for government to operate effectively. Remind students that both parties have a vision for the nation’s future that fits with its Republican (predominantly conservative) and/or Democrat (predominantly liberal) political philosophy, even though those philosophies differ considerably. Display Slide 5. Tell students they will be watching a short video entitled An Overview of the Budget Process about the political issues with federal budget. Display Slide 6. Review the four questions presented at the end of the video: Who is exercising political power? How are they getting what they want? What is influencing them? How can I influence this process? Tell students the first step to answering these questions is understanding the basis of political points of view. Display Slide 7. Have students respond with their perception of what each term means to them. Display Slide 8. Review the terms with students. You may also want them to identify politicians or candidates for office in who fit in each category or espouse some of the beliefs associated with the terms. Compile student answers, reminding students that beliefs or philosophies can vary even within these broad categories. Explain that the party ideology or actions represent a general vision of how they perceive the role of government and its impact on the economy or individuals. Display Slide 9. Ask students how their perceptions agree or disagree with the descriptions of the two major political parties in the U.S. Remind them you are using the general consensus of the two political parties even though people of various beliefs may be members of either one.

Group Activity

Tell students they will be using these terms to explore political groups that promote different political philosophies. Explain that such groups are often called political action groups, think-tanks, etc. Display Slide 10. Tell them this slide shows four groups that have been politically active and influential in the political process. (Note: You may want to add other popular groups to the slide or discussion before continuing with the assignment.) Divide students into small groups and assign each group one or more of the four organizations listed on the slide. Explain that they will be researching the assigned organization using the Political Organization Research Guide. Distribute copies of the handout and review the instructions. Discuss student answers, having students compare the opinions, perspectives, and ideologies of the different groups. Have them identify possible points of compromise or agreement among the groups. Ask students to determine each groups’ opinions about federal budget policy. For example, which groups would favor greater government spending and which groups would favor less government spending? Debrief the activity by discussing how political philosophies can shape advocacy for possible reform or changes in the federal budget.

Individual Activity

Display Slide 11. Inform students that they will take a survey to determine how their political beliefs align with conservative and liberal ideologies. Explain that this survey was originally administered in 2005 by the Pew Research Center and covers a cross-section of economic, social, and political issues. Tell them the Pew Research Center is a trusted source of information on a variety of topics; this survey, however, the survey is a reflective tool, not as a way of making a definitive analysis of students’ thinking. Remind them there are no right or wrong answers; the purpose is to help them think about how their views on specific issues align with like-minded individuals and which of their own views do not. Direct students to the Pew Research Center Political Typology Quiz. Before students begin the survey, encourage them to answer the questions thoughtfully and carefully, explaining that their answers are anonymous. Tell them the web site codes their answers and uses them to generate a placement along the political “typology” spectrum. The survey should take 10 minutes. Display Slide 12. Have them respond to the reflection questions after completing the survey. Then, discuss their answers as a class. Ask them how their own political beliefs align with those of the organization they researched. (Note: If students are hesitant to share in class, have them write their answers and submit them to you.)



Have students write a 250-word essay addressing the essential dilemma: Should political philosophy influence how we view the federal budget? Encourage them to consider the ways in which a clearly articulated political philosophy could, on one hand, provide context and grounding to a difficult issue, but on the other hand could narrow one’s point of view and mask legitimate alternatives.


Activity 1

Choose a relevant issue (health care, entitlements, defense spend, etc.) for students to explore in greater depth from the perspective of each organization used in the lesson. Put students into small groups to prepare a class presentation on the selected topic and group based on evidence of the organization’s political philosophies and how the organization would respond to increased spending in this area. Students could then compare the organizations’ “responses” and look for areas of potential compromise among the groups.

Activity 2

Distribute the Overview of the Budget Process. Have students use page one of the reading to make a flow chart illustrating the steps in the federal budget process. Have them read the mini case studies in the handout and answer the following questions about each one:

  1. What can you learn from the headings alone?
  2. Who (or what alliance) is exercising political power?
  3. How are they using the budget process to help them get what they want?
  4. What is influencing decision makers? Their own values and priorities? The views of their constituents? The influence of lobbyists?
  5. To what degree is each influence affecting the outcome of the legislation?
  6. What more would you need to know to decide whether the budget process effectively allocates tax revenues according to the nation’s priorities?

(Option: Assign one case study to different small groups and use a jigsaw instructional strategy to compare their answers.)