Political Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

A political cartoon is a type of drawing used to present opinions, comments, or criticisms of a situation, person, or event.  Cartoons help us understand information by presenting it in a visual and memorable way.  Political cartoons are widely used to express opinions about public issues and officials.  They may be found in the pages of every major newspaper in the world and appeal to all levels of readers.  Cartoonists possess a special art skill that often incorporates caricatures, symbolism, satire, and a well rounded understanding of the issues about which they are drawing cartoons.  Often the full meaning of the cartoon is rather subtle and may be missed entirely by the casual reader.  To fully understand the cartoons, on must possess an understanding of the techniques used by cartoonists and a knowledge of history as well as the ability to use critical thinking skills.  Cartoonists use many different techniques to achieve their goals:

Political cartoons can be “humorous” because they exaggerate, but they are not always humorous.  They are often a biting comment on a social issue or in reference to a particular person.  The cartoon does not allow the reader or the person portrayed an opportunity for rebuttal.  Recognition of the fact that only one point of view is represented in cartoons is important in their interpretation.


Words (Not all cartoons include words)

Level One:

1. List all the objects or people you see in the cartoon

1.      Identify the cartoon caption and/or title

2.      Locate three words or phrases used by the cartoonist to identify objects or people within the cartoon

3.      Record any important dates or numbers that appear in the cartoon

Level Two

2. Which of the objects on your list are symbols?


3. What do you think each symbol means?

4.      Which words or phrases in the cartoon appear to be the most significant?  Why do you think so?

5.      List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon.

Level Three:

A.     Describe the action taking place in the cartoon

B.     Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols

C.     Explain the message in the cartoon

D.     What special interest groups would agree/disagree with the author’s message?  Why?

Designed and developed by the Education Staff, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.


Analyzing Political Cartoons, Written by Ingrid Porter and Julie Weiss, Ph.D.

This activity walks you through an analysis of this cartoon, and then asks you to use what you’ve seen in one cartoon to generalize about how political cartoons lampoon people or situations.


       Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Constitution

 1. a. Start by looking at the visual elements of the cartoon. Who are the two men pictured? The drawings of the two men are not realistic. In what ways are they distorted? Why did the cartoonist choose to distort them in that way?




b. Read the text. What is Cheney referring to? What is inappropriate about Bush’s answer? What does the answer imply about Bush?




c. What do you need to know in order to understand the cartoon?





d. What makes this cartoon funny?





2. This cartoon mocks George W. Bush. Use the analysis you completed in Part 1 of this activity to identify two techniques the cartoonist uses to attack Bush.

A method cartoonists use to convey a message is irony. Irony refers to a situation in which the outcome is the opposite of what you expected, or when something means the opposite of what was intended. For example, an animal-rights activist wearing leather shoes is ironic because leather comes from animals, and you wouldn’t expect an animal-rights activist to use leather.


Walt Handelsman

1. You have already learned how to look closely at pictures and words.  Use these skills with this cartoon. List the details in the pictures that you need to recognize in order to understand the cartoon.





2. There are two frames in this cartoon. What happens in the first frame? What happens in the second frame, and how is it ironic?





3. What do you need to know about current issues to fully appreciate the irony in this cartoon?

4. The cartoonist wants to make you laugh but also wants to convey social and political message. What is the cartoonist’s opinion about videogames? What does the cartoonist believe about the role the government should play regarding videogames?




5. Why do you think cartoonists use humor to make their point?





Sometimes cartoonists make their points by putting together two people, two situations or two ideas that don’t belong together. For example, in the Oct. 16, 2000 issue of Newsweek, a cartoon shows Al Gore making campaign promises to a child who is trick-or-treating at his house. The source of the humor is that a campaign speech and Halloween are not two ideas that go together.


                        Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Constitution

1. Look closely at the picture. What information do you get from it?




2. What does Gore’s speech refer to? What do you need to know to understand this cartoon? How would you explain the humor to someone who is unaware of the allusion?




3. What makes the cartoon funny? How is the source of humor different from the previous cartoon, which used irony?




In this activity, you will have an opportunity to use the skills and insights you’ve developed to create a framework for analyzing political cartoons.


Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Constitution

 1. a. Who is pictured in the cartoon? Where is he? What is he doing? What is he saying?




b. What does the fish represent? What’s ironic about this fish? What is ironic about what the man says about the fish?





c. Write a paragraph that explains the cartoon.




d. Do you find this cartoon funny? Why or why not?




2. Now that you have analyzed four cartoons, you know what is involved in “reading” a political cartoon. Working with a partner, develop a step-by-step list of directions that you could give to younger students so they would be able to analyze a cartoon as you have. Your list can either take the form of instructions or be a series of questions that take them through the process.




3. Trade templates with another pair. Look at their template. Does it have everything you think it needs? What would you add or change?  Explain your thinking to the students who created the template. Each pair should revise their template to make it better.