Simulating the 2016 Presidential Election

May 5, 2016 Les Lynn Professional Capacity Development, Resources, The Debatifier

This argument-based project, the 2016 Presidential Election Simulation, is being offered to ACE partner high schools for implementation in May and June.  It is designed as a school-wide project that gives students a direct and experiential learning opportunity, taking advantage of the information and energy generated and circulated throughout the presidential election season, and injecting some of the fun for students of role-playing.  It interleaves civics learning, politic science, and evidence-based argument.

What follows is an overview of the basic elements of the project.



One student should be designated to take and play the role of each of the four candidates that either are still in, or have only recently dropped out of, the 2016 presidential campaign – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, and any additional Republican candidate, but possibly John Kasich or Ted Cruz.

Students do not need to be of the same gender, race, ethnicity of age of the candidate they are representing.

Having four candidates — two from each party — gives the project partisan symmetry, and also a balance between reproducing the current electoral scenario, while blending in a bit of “counter-factual” possibility (what might have happened, or even what should have happened, in the primary elections).

Campaign Teams

Each candidate needs to have a small campaign team of 2 – 4 pledged and committed team members.  The candidates’ campaign team members should be submitted to one of the sponsoring teachers or administrators by the date on the implementation plan.

A sample implementation plan:

2016PresidentialElectionSimulationImplementationTimelineImage16.05.03Each campaign team member should have a designated and defined role.

Roles for campaign team members can be defined by each individual campaign, but they can include any of the following.

Campaign Manager

Person charged with managing all of the other campaign team members and generally ensuring the candidate has the best possible chance of winning the election.

Communications Director  

Person charged with messaging, argument-building, and implementing all voter communications and argumentation efforts, including interpersonal communications, social media strategy, and “PA Days” announcements.

Debate Prep Director

Person charged with helping prepare answers to all of the debate questions and issues, and practicing them with the candidate in advance of the presidential debate.

Marketing Director

Person charged with producing all posters, fliers, buttons, bulletin-board hangings, and all other campaign material for the candidate.

Policy Director

Person charged with researching and formulating the policy positions and the arguments of the candidate for use in all means of campaigning and debating.


Campaigning entails everything the candidate and his or her team do to make arguments for the candidate’s superiority for the position of president, to communicate the candidate’s messaging and issue positions to the electorate, and to try to convince the electorate to vote for the candidate.

Creativity, originality, and freshness are not only allowed in campaigning, they are strongly encouraged.

Campaigning cannot include anything that could be construed as bribery, and must always include some reference to the candidate’s position on one or more of the five electoral issues in this simulation.

Economy/Income Inequality

Education/Social Issues

Foreign Policy



Campaign arguments on each of these policy issues should be guided by responses to these policy questions:

2016PresidentialElectionSimulationPolicyQuestionsImage16.05.05Campaigning can and should include creating and putting up “issue posters” (one issue per poster, stating the candidate’s position on the issue and arguments in favor of this position), social media postings (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.), lunch room campaign tables, fliers, bulletin board hangings, and interpersonal hand-shaking, etc.

PA Days

For one week of campaigning, each candidate should get one of the days of the week to have campaign messages read by the PA announcer.  The messages should:

  • Be about two sentences long
  • Each refer to one policy argument
  • Clearly refer back to the candidate
  • Be labelled as to which period it should be read before
  • Be submitted to the PA announcer by the Friday before the week of PA Days

Here’s an example of a PA Day announcement for Hillary.

Candidate: Hillary Clinton

Period: Before 2nd

Text:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton favors an internationalist, alliance-building, tough but friendly foreign policy, and has more foreign policy experience than all of the other candidates in the race put together.  On May 27th, Vote Hillary!

Presidential Debate

On the last week of campaigning a presidential debate between all four candidates should take, during the middle of the day, on the stage of the auditorium.  Ideally the debate takes place in front of as large a student audience as possible.  Teachers and administrators should be asked to submit ideas and input on how to best implement this component.

The candidates and their campaign teams should use the policy questions list above to prepare for the debate.  This question list will supply most of what will be asked during the debate — specific probings on each of the five policy issues also listed above.  The candidates and their campaign teams should prepare and practice answers to each of the questions, though they will also be expected and led to respond to answers given by other candidates.

The debate will need a teacher-moderator (taking the Megyn Kelly, Anderson Cooper, or Wolf Blitzer role).  An additional option is to empanel a group of teacher-questioners, orchestrated by a single chief moderator.  The debate should also include questions from the student audience, possibly allowing for questions submitted by whole classes in advance (screened in advance of course).


On the final day of the 2016 Presidential Election Simulation the actual vote should be conducted.  This should take place on prepared ballots and voting rolls in the lunch room and media center.  Schools can consider including an on-line voting option.

Election results will be announced either at the end of that day, or the following morning.  Consider too what reward or prize the winning candidate should receive, in addition to the honor of being chosen by his her classmates.