Free, Fair, & Regular Elections: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers:  The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary. 

Essential Principles


When representative democracy was first instituted, the vote was limited to property-owning males. The vote was generally denied to citizens without property, women, indentured servants, slaves, and other subordinate classes. Under such conditions, was the political system a legitimate or genuine democracy? Why or why not? Can similar or any other justifications for restricting the franchise be used today?

Can citizens freely vote for dictatorship? What are some cases in which citizens freely choose parties or candidates that are violent or dictatorial? Can these choices be justified? Did the countries remain democratic (or have subsequent free elections)?


Aside from the three countries listed in this Essential Principle study guide (Poland, Venezuela, Azerbaijan), identify some other examples of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries (see other Country Studies or Freedom House's list of countries in its Freedom in the World survey). What are the criteria used for designation within each category? Are there examples of Free countries with unfree elections or Not Free countries with partly or fully free elections? Examine a Freedom House report of a country you have chosen. Would you have a different designation from Freedom House? Justify your assessment with concrete events from the recent past using the New York Times World Topics and Economist magazine country sections. What conclusions can you draw about elections in general? 



Compare pre- and post-1989 Poland as described in the Country Study. What makes the most recent elections free? What made previous, communist-era elections unfree? In 1989, the Solidarity movement accepted a Roundtable Agreement in which it agreed to participate in only partially free elections. Why did Solidarity leaders agree to such elections? What was the expected outcome and what was the final outcome? 


From 1982 to 1989, the government banned the Solidarity trade union and repressed opposition activity. What was the response of Polish citizens to the re-imposition of communist dictatorship? What strategies were developed to oppose the dictatorship? Were they peaceful or violent? Research using the New York Times and Economist web sites and other sources for articles during this period. Compare Poland from 1982-89 to Azerbaijan since 1993 to today. What are the similarities and differences? 

Arrange viewings of Man of Marble and Man of Iron. How do these movies depict life under the communist dictatorship? What were conditions for workers? Why did workers rebel in 1980? 

The Catholic Church played an important role in Poland's history, both in times of occupation and during independence. Do additional research using the Resources to compare the role of the Church during the period of martial law and its role today. What role has the Church played, historically and more recently, in elections and politics? 



What factors originally helped Venezuela to become a democracy? What types of social and political movements supported democracy? What factors contributed to the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 and to the repudiation of his Bolivarian Revolution in the December 2015 National Assembly elections 2015? Why did Venezuelans turn against the democratic agreement of 1958 (the Punta Fijo Pact) in 1998 and then against Chavez’s United Socialist Party in 2015?

What factors led to the election of and consolidation of power by Hugo Chavez? Is Chavez a dictator? Pretend you are a lawyer defending Chavez's behavior and make the argument that he should not be considered a dictator. Allow a classmate to present the opposing side, and have the class vote based on your presentations.


Have students examine why Freedom House identifies Venezuela as “partly free” even as the country’s political system became more dictatorial under Presidents Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Madura. Why does Freedom House identify Venezuela as “partly free” as opposed to “not free”?

Divide students in debate format to answer the question: Chavez’s period of rule as president was a dictatorship: Yes/No. Consider the issue of whether Venezuela is a dictatorship under his successor, Nicolas Maduro? Use Resource links and articles from the New York Times and Economist. Have one student from each side present the group’s case.



After a brief period of democracy, Azerbaijan has been governed by a post-Communist dictatorship. What other post–Soviet bloc countries are dictatorships? Which countries are now more democratic? See Country Studies of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan? What are similarities and differences among these “not free” countries? 


See articles on previous elections in the Resource Section on Azerbaijan. See, e.g., the IDEE report on 2003 elections and The New York Times and Economist articles on the 2013 elections. Describe the different methods used by the Azerbaijan government to prevent free and fair elections and to influence international observer missions. What do these methods show are necessary for free and fair elections to be legitimate? What are ways in which the Azerbaijan government has tried to influence international observers to rate their elections as free and fair?

Since the 2013 presidential elections in Azerbaijan, the regime is increasingly autocratic and repressive. What strategy would you adopt to overcome such a persistent dictatorship? Look at cases of countries that recently overcame dictatorship (e.g. Poland in 1989 or more recent examples of Tunisia and Ukraine). What strategies were used in these cases?

See the Sports for Rights report in Resource Section. Using it as a guide, write a proposal making suggestions to U.S. policymakers about how to support democratic change in Azerbaijan. Choose different external and internal pressures to force change.

The practice of election fraud seems to have been extended even to the Eurovision Song Contest. See the International Herald Tribune article of May 22, 2013 article listed in the Resources Section. What do the allegations indicate as to the culture of corruption in Azerbaijan? See other articles in the Resource section on this topic. Is there a connection between the lack of free elections and the level of corruption in Azerbaijan? Explain.