Lesson Plan

How Public Opinion is Built

Examine opinion polls throughout the era of war and investigate key figures in American politics who helped shape the landscape of public opinion and action in this time period.

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Enduring Understanding

Public opinion is shaped by multiple factors and does not guarantee that action will be taken on behalf of that opinion.

Essential Questions

  • 1How do we balance and respond to the varied opinions that we accept about ourselves and the world around us?
  • 2Why can we condemn actions elsewhere and accept similar actions here?


5 Min

Ask students to reflect on what they think contributes to their opinion on something? Who are the influencers in their world? Do all influences carry equal weight? How do they balance the difference of opinions that they hear and that they may agree with?


15 Min

Cycle through the opinion polls that run the length of the Holocaust, presented via the US Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit on Americans and the Holocaust.

As you cycle through, prompt students to quickly jot down answers to the following questions that pair with each slide:

  1. What do you make of the disparity between disapproval of persecution and willingness to allow more refugees into the country in 1938?
  2. Why do you think Americans were uncomfortable entering a war with Germany in 1940?
  3. Americans were widely opposed to information they heard about Nazi concentration camps, what do you suppose puts them in favor of Japanese Internment?
  4. The United States and our allies won the war – in both Europe and the Far East. Why do you suppose we weren’t more welcoming to immigrants at that time? Who did we welcome?


30 Min

Students will explore the writings and primary sources about various influential people from the 1930s and 40s. Groups should be created, each assigned to a different person of influence. Begin at the bottom of this page from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with the public voices and extend into the political voices if need be.

Groups should prepare a brief presentation about the person to which they are assigned. Each group should answer at least the following questions:

  1. What was this person’s role in US society? How influential were they, based on examples?
    Did they influence policy, public opinion or both? In what ways?
  2. What were the main actions they took during this time?
  3. How were they able to influence public opinion – especially the publics’ opinion on war, immigration, concentration camps, Internment camps? Why do you think their perspectives were so pertinent to this subject?
  4. How do you judge them in light of our current situation? What lessons can they teach us?
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