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Exploring the Reasons Why Trump Won

December 8, 2016

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D.


Intended Audience: Middle and High School Students

Objectives: Students will have an opportunity to examine the explanations for why Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election despite almost universal predictions that he would not and they will examine “patterns” of US presidential choices.

Historical Thinking Standards (National Standards for U.S. History)

Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12


1. Copy of Article II, Section I of the US Constitution (the qualifications for President)

2. Background information on US Presidents – Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and George Herbert Walker Bush.

Lesson Plan


Begin with this question: “What does the US Constitution say about who is eligible to be President?”

1. Determine what students already know about qualifications.

2. Share wording from Article 2, Section 1 of the US Constitution:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

3. Ask students what they think about the qualifications.

4. Ask student to share what “other” qualifications they notice about all of the people who have previously held the office (gender, social class, education, wealth, previous experience).

5. Ask students: “Raise your hand if you thought Donald Trump would win the 2016 election?”

6. Ask students to share their reasons why they thought he would win. (If none of the students raised their hands—indicating they all thought Hillary Clinton would win—then proceed with question as to why they thought he won.

7. List the reasons that students offer for why they thought Trump won the election.

8. Go back through their reasons and ask students to provide evidence for their reasoning (specifically asking, if need be, where is the data?).

 Part 2 – Examining Prevailing Explanations

1. Tell the students that the two candidates (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, depending upon your students and where you are located, you can expand to include Third Party candidates) had two different perspectives on the United States. Clinton’s campaign theme was “Stronger Together” and Trump’s campaign theme was “Make America Great Again.” Ask students to discuss what each theme was trying to say about the country.

2. Ask them to think about which themes spoke to which voters? Why?

3. Ask students to break into groups of three and build a rationale for Trump’s win based on the following perspectives:

Trump won because America was not ready to elect a woman as president of the United States.

Trump won because working class people were tired of being “left out.”

Trump won because he played on the racism of White voters.

After hearing all of the rationales, have them decide as a class which one seems most compelling? And why?

Give students the following racial demographic information:




Ask students to explain the chart and answer, what does it say about how certain groups of African Americans feel about Trump as president?

Part 3 – Wrap Up

1. How have other Presidents used race as a way to appeal to specific constituents? Give students these examples:

Andrew Jackson – The Indian Killer (“Trail of Tears”)

Woodrow Wilson – Attitudes toward race (“Birth of a Nation”)

George Herbert Walker Bush – Willie Horton Ad

2. Ask students to work with a partner to come up with a campaign ad to the following constituents. Develop a campaign theme and three campaign promises that will appeal to the following groups:

Working class Whites


African Americans


Share the campaign ads.

Suggested Readings

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 9, 2016 3:14 am

    This lesson is awesome! Do you have any resources for looking at the three examples of past presidents?

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