CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Pollsters and Spin Doctors

History, Media Studies, Business Studies, Political Science
3 lessons
To consider the use and impact of pollsters and spin doctors in elections
Using a variety of web-based resources, students will explore the growth and impact of polls and spin doctors in elections. They will analyze a politician of their choice and role-play a pollster, a spin doctor, and a politician discussing suggestions and responses for implementing such strategies for that politician in an upcoming election.

Lesson Plan


As Leader of the Opposition, Lester Pearson hired a pollster to conduct surveys for his Liberal party. It was the same pollster who had worked for the very popular President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Based on the survey results, Pearson was directed by advisers around him to change his image. Away went the bowtie, to be replaced by a straight tie. The era of pollsters and "spin doctors" arrived on the scene in Canadian politics.

The Task

Working in a triad, students will select a political leader and assume the role of being their personal "spin doctor." They will design a survey to gather information by which they can advise their politician.

Students will research to obtain information on the most effective ways to construct their survey. They should address personal appearance, media presence, gestures and language, position on public issues, and any other issues they feel would help their politician's image.

After surveying a sampling of fellow students, friends, and family, they analyze their results and identify suggestions they can make to their politician to improve their image.

Triads will present their suggestions in a scenario in which students play the roles of the politician, the pollster, and the "spin doctor." The interaction among the characters should include an explanation of the survey and its results, why certain suggestions are being made, and the political leader's reactions to all of the ideas. The political leader should also demonstrate how the suggestions will be incorporated into his or her public image.

The Process

Students will work in groups of three. They should begin their research with the topic Lester B. Pearson: From Peacemaker to Prime Minister on the CBC Digital Archives website, specifically the clips "Front Page Pearson," "Standing up to de Gaulle," "Too intelligent for politics," "Reflections on a life in politics" and "We are all Pearson's children."  On the CBC site, students will find links to assist them in their research. Students can do further research using archives of newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts to gather the additional information and data necessary to complete their surveys and role-plays. Groups should note all resources consulted and cited.


Invite each group to present to the class. After each presentation, groups discuss the role-playing scenarios and critically analyze which suggestions they feel are legitimate and which are just media hype. As a class, create a list of dos and don'ts that politicians should follow in taking suggestions from pollsters and "spin doctors."

Resources for this topic


Environics Research Group - archives and past polls

Statistics Canada

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