Choosing the Next President by the Numbers?!

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Choosing the Next President by the Numbers?!

47%; 8.1%; 5 trillion; 16 trillion! Does who should be the next president of the United States all come down to just numbers? This article in the New York Times, published right before the first debate on 3 October 2012, predicted that President Obama and Governor Romney would each use quite a few numbers to make the case for why they should be elected President this November. The topic of the debate was domestic policy and the reporter’s prediction was based on what each of the candidates had been saying on the campaign trail. It turns out that the reporter was right.

The numbers included:

8.1 PERCENT: the unemployment rate
47 PERCENT: the proportion of the public that Mr. Romney said were “dependent” on the government and viewed themselves as “victims
100 PERCENT: the proportion of the American public that Mr. Romney says he will represent as president.
$5,000,000,000,000: the cost of Mr. Romney’s proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy, according to Mr. Obama’s campaign.
$16,000,000,000,000: the amount of United States debt.
$2,000: the amount that Mr. Obama says middle-class taxes will go up if Mr. Romney is elected.
$3.80: the average price of a gallon of gas.
$6,400: the additional amount Mr. Obama says individual beneficiaries would pay if Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, enacted their plans for reforming Medicare. NO. 1: where Russia ranks on the list of America’s most important geopolitical foes, according to Mr. Romney.

Is this all there is?

Ask students to re-watch or read a transcript of the debate (here) and engage them in the following discussion.
• Was the reporter right? Were numbers a big feature of the debate?

• How did the candidates use the numbers to tell their side of the story? Were they completely different stories? (Were the same numbers ever used to tell more than one story?)

Did the candidates disagree about the numbers themselves, about how they were used, or about something deeper?

Consider using this article, also in the New York Times, on the differing roles the candidates believe the government should play in American society to guide their discussion of the deeper issues: New York Times, “A Clash of Philosophies.”

• What more would you want to know about the numbers before using them to help you make up your mind which candidate to support?

After encouraging students to question the numbers on their own, consider using this interactive feature in the New York Times to help students fact check the actual numbers and how they were used.

Remind students that the next debate will be on Tuesday, October 16th in a Town Hall format made up of undecided voters identified by the Gallup Organization. Tell students to imagine being in the audience and ask them to choose their most important question about the numbers to put to one or the other of the candidates.

Check out “Teaching with the Presidential Debates” from the New York Times Learning Network for additional resources.

Posted by: Anand R. Marri & Maureen Grolnick

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