Teaching with Political Campaign Mailers

Teaching with Political Campaign Mailers


Don’t throw all those political campaign mailers away! Bring them to class and teach with them.

I teach in Illinois. Illinois, ahem, normally has divisive political campaigns. During election years, I keep political campaign mailers, and ask my students to bring them in as well.

Why? They are free, and they are concrete evidence that language matters.

Here are a few of the questions I ask when my classes study political campaign mailers:

1. Is the grammar correct? If not, why? Does the piece “work” because the grammar is wrong?

2. What do the pictures show? Do the pictures align with the written word? Are they misleading? Where do you think this picture came from? (This is especially important if the picture is of an angry politician, or a politician in an unflattering light. Was the picture taken in the context of the message, or is this just a bad picture?)

3. Who is the audience? Is this campaign for older people, or younger  people? Educated or uneducated? Why do you know this? What slang or terms tip you off that this mailer is for a certain group of people?

4. What “mean” words are used? The adjectives and adverbs do not sell the idea alone. Is anyone called a name? Are the verbs powerful?

5. What political party sent this? How does this mailer align with the party’s beliefs? Are political campaign mailers effective in creating an image for a political party? What images are the parties trying to give the public?

I always have students evaluate the mailers and decide if they like them or not. Then we can examine their reasoning a bit more.

Finally, I use political campaign mailers to demonstrate that yes, there are jobs for people who get degrees in English. So many times older students will say, “I like English classes, but I don’t want to be a teacher.”

Tons of jobs are out there for English majors and writing political mailers is only one of them.

What question do you ask when you teach political advertising? 

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