Republicans and Democrats


Republicans and Democrats teaches students the history of the two major US parties. Students will discover how partisanship and factions unite to form new political parties. They will also learn how the Democratic and Republican parties have different beliefs and promote their views on public policy and governance.

Understanding the role of the two major political parties can be challenging for young children. Have the chairperson from the local office come and speak to the students. If there is an election, bring candidates from both parties to talk to the children.

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What our Republicans and Democrats lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Republicans and Democrats teaches students the history of the two major parties in the United States. Students will learn how partisanship and factions unite to form new political parties. Finally, they will learn how the Democratic and Republican parties have different beliefs and how they promote their views on public policy and governance. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For the Republicans and Democrats lesson plan, ensure your students have internet access for this lesson.

Options for Lesson

You can check out the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page for additional suggestions for ideas and activities to incorporate into the lesson. Understanding the role of the two major political parties can be challenging for young children. Nearly every town has a local Democratic and Republican office. Have the chairperson from the local office come and speak to the students. If there is an election, bring candidates from both parties to talk to the children.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information to help guide the lesson. It explains that this lesson approaches the topic from an impartial perspective and focuses on historical facts rather than partisan differences. You can use the blank lines to write down any other ideas or thoughts you have about the topic as you prepare.



The Republicans and Democrats lesson plan contains five pages of content. The United States holds elections every year. One might be a local election for a city council or school board position. Another could be a state election for governor or other state position. Your own school may even hold elections for student councils!

In the US government, the House of Representatives holds elections every two years, the Senate every six, and the president every four. Regularly scheduled elections are an essential part of life in the United States. So, how do people get elected to serve in a political office? Before we answer that question, let’s talk about politics, politicians, and what politicians do.

A simple definition of politics is the way in which groups make decisions. Let’s use an example. You have five friends and are trying to decide whether to watch a movie or play video games. Your best friend wants to watch a movie, and you want to play video games. Rather than argue over the best choice, the group decides to vote.

You and your best friend must convince the others that your choice is the best. And you will choose the activity with the majority or the most votes (in this case, three people or more). You are now a politician, or someone who tries to convince others that their ideas are the best choices for the group. Let’s take this one step further.

You know how you and your friend will vote. After all, it’s you two who have a difference of opinion. You also know which friend loves video games and which friend loves movies. Now the group is divided into political parties, or groups of people with similar beliefs that work together to influence people to vote on their choices. Neither party has reached a majority. One person is undecided or independent. They don’t belong to either group. You and your friend must convince them to vote for your choice.

Republicans and Democrats

One way political scientists (people who study politics and government) describe the US political system is as a representative democracy. And political parties perform essential roles in representative democracy. In the example of video games vs. movies, everyone voted on a specific issue—which activity to choose. In a representative democracy, people vote for a person (candidate) to represent them and to vote on their behalf.

Political parties nominate or find candidates to represent their ideas to the voters. They organize campaigns, raise money, and hold events to publicize their candidate’s positions on issues. When not trying to get candidates elected, political parties try to influence decisions in the government to support their viewpoint. They help keep the public informed about who is making decisions for them and what the consequences are of party representatives’ decisions.

There are many political parties in the United States. Still, only two have consistently won national, state, and local elections—the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These parties dominate American elections.

First Congress and George Washington

There is no mention of political parties in the Constitution. When the United States first formed and George Washington was the president, there were no political parties. That is not to say the politicians didn’t have their differences. They did. However, elected officials chose to back the
new president and government because they wanted it to succeed. Most officials respected the former General and now President Washington too much to do otherwise.

They were either non-partisan or bipartisan. Partisan means you are a strong supporter of a belief and unlikely to change your mind. Non- partisan or bipartisan means you strongly support an idea but are open to changing your mind or compromising. Some historians call Washington an Independent as he did what he thought was in the country’s best interest.

When Washington decided not to run again for president, he warned the Congress of the dangers of becoming too partisan, splitting into factions or competitive groups, and forming political parties. Unfortunately, his warning went unheeded; with each election, more divisive groups began to take shape. The groups eventually merged into the two major parties we know today as the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Oldest Political Party

The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in US history. It traced its beginning to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801), when it was called the Democratic-Republican Party. Its roots stem from a faction called Anti-Federalists, people who believed in co-equal national and state governments or weak national and strong state governments. Anti-Federalists believed a strong federal government would eventually lead to a monarchy or rule by a king. To encourage broader participation in governing, the Anti-Federalists supported the idea of the direct election of government officials and short-term limits for officeholders.

The Anti-Federalist support was in the southern and western parts of the United States. Historians describe their members and voters as mostly artisans, shopkeepers, frontier settlers, and poor farmers. Most were uneducated and unable to read. In contrast, Federalists were mostly northeasterners, wealthy landowners, bankers, businessmen, people who were educated.

Federalists believed in a strong national government. They wanted indirect elections or leaders chosen by legislatures. Federalists did not think uneducated people—or “common people”—were experienced enough to be government leaders. It’s easy to see why these groups were at odds!

The Democratic Donkey

In the presidential election of 1824, the Democratic-Republican Party fractured into two factions. One group supported John Quincy Adams for president, and the other supported Andrew Jackson. Adams won, but only after a bitter fight and the end of the Democratic-Republican Party. The result was a new political party, the National Republican Party. But, it quickly died, giving way to the Whig Party, which later evolved into the Republican Party.

During the election of 1828, the donkey became the party’s symbol. The Democrats felt donkey represented the hard-working, ordinary man and humility. Ironically, it was meant as an insult when Adams called Jackson a slur for a donkey during the bitter election.

Jackson used the abuse to make campaign posters and ridicule Adams. By 1870, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast used the donkey to represent the Democratic Party. It has remained their symbol ever since! By the end of the 1850s, a disagreement in the Democratic Party over slavery resulted in the election of a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, for president. By the 1900s, the party united around the issue of more government oversight, social and labor reforms, higher taxes on wealthy individuals, and increased federal government size. This remains true in modern-day times.

Grand Old Party

Earlier, you learned that people with similar ideas or philosophies form political parties. The parties nominate candidates, support them in election campaigns, and try to get them elected to positions in government. The goal is to influence public policy or how the government functions, what laws need to be passed, and what decisions need to be made on behalf of voters. Political parties are partisan during and after elections. They believe that if they win the majority of votes, the voters choose their public policy over the other party’s.

You also learned that the root of the Republican Party started with a split vote between Adams and Jackson in the 1824 presidential election. It created the Democratic- Republican Party, later the National Republican Party, and eventually the Whig Party. By the 1850s, the Whig Party fractured, and the Republican Party replaced it

in 1854. The party was formed by activists, which are people who try to change something. The activists were anti-slavery, or against enslaving people. By the time of the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party was strong enough to elect Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican president in history.

The Republican Elephant

The name Republican was chosen as a tribute to Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. And, much like the Democratic Party, the symbol used by Republicans was made famous by the same political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. The sign for Republicans is the elephant in many of the same cartoons as Nast’s Democratic donkey. During the Civil War, a saying by soldiers—”seeing the elephant”—loosely referred to seeing things in war you wished you hadn’t during combat. Lincoln used the elephant in 1864 on his campaign posters.

Later, Nast used the elephant to represent the Republican vote. The elephant is a symbol of intelligence, dignity, and strength. In another ironic twist, elephants played a part in the Civil War. Come February of 1862, the King of Siam offered to send elephants to help the Union win the Civil War. In a letter, Lincoln politely declined to take the King up on his offer. Just think, there could have been elephants on Civil War battlefields if Lincoln had agreed to it!

Much like their Jeffersonian roots, the modern Republican Party today believes in smaller government, lower taxes, and placing more decision-making on local governments. The party believes that individuals in a free society make the best choice and that the role of government should be limited.

Blue and Red States

While it may seem that Democrats and Republicans lean far apart on public policy, the truth is that they share at least one common goal. That goal is to do what they believe is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States. Some political scientists believe the parties have become too partisan and no longer represent the voters. They think the United States needs more choices and more political parties. Others, however, believe that having two strong parties forces people to work together and find common ground.

In modern elections, we call states blue or red states. This began during the 2002 presidential election when states voted decisively for candidates in one party. States that vote majority Democratic are called blue states. The states that vote majority Republican are red states. If neither party consistently wins the state, they are purple states. Purple states are called swing states since the voters in these states change which party receives the majority vote in different elections.

In the early days of elections three centuries ago, candidates would debate on stages called platforms. Each would stand up, say what they believed, and then discuss in front of the crowds. Voters could listen and choose who to vote for based on what they heard. In modern times, the word platform means something different. A political platform is a statement of beliefs that the political parties put out so voters know what their candidates stand for.

However, only some candidates believe everything in the party platform. Party platforms are just one way to choose the candidate you want to represent you. Though political parties nominate and help candidates win elections, voters ultimately decide who is elected and which kind of government they want.


The Republicans and Democrats lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their grasp of the material they learned throughout the lesson. You can refer to the classroom procedure guidelines to know when to hand out each worksheet.


For the activity, students will research which states are Democratic, Republican, and swing states. They will fill in the Democratic states blue, Republican states red, and swing states purple. Then they will write what color their state is.


The practice worksheet requires students to form a political party. They will review the video vs. movie section of the content pages. In groups of five to seven members, students will find and issue with which some students agree and others do not. They will form two parties, create a party symbol, and write out a party platform. Then they can debate the issue and hold a vote. There is a template for them to follow at the bottom of the page.


Students will imagine that they have been nominated to run for the school board. They will read the scenario and write out their response on the blank lines.

Worksheet Answer Keys

There are “answer keys” for both the practice and homework worksheets at the end of the Republicans and Democrats lesson plan document. Given the nature of these assignments, the answer keys are more like guides to help If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


Social Studies, Video


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade

State Educational Standards


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Penny H.

Good start

I found the lesson to be useable and understandable for a great variety of students! Thank you.

Stacy F.

Great starter for branches of Government

Very easy to read and teach from..