The Media and Political Campaigns

Political Advertisements

Political advertising is a form of campaigning used by political candidates to reach and influence voters.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the development of political advertisements on television and the Internet

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Unlike the campaigns of the past, advances in media technology have streamlined the process, giving candidates more options to reach even larger groups of constituents with very little physical effort.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson all successfully utilized the medium of television for their political advertising campaigns.
  • The growth of cable television networks and the Internet allowed candidates to reach new demographics, tailor their advertisements to particular audiences, and communicate directly with supporters and constituents.

Key Terms

  • constituent: a resident of a place represented by an elected official
  • narrowcasting: advertisements which are tailored to target specific audiences

Political advertising is a form of campaigning used by political candidates to reach and influence voters. It can include several different mediums and span several months over the course of a political campaign. Unlike the campaigns of the past, advances in media technology have streamlined the process, giving candidates more options to reach even larger groups of constituents with very little physical effort.

Political advertising has changed drastically over the last several decades. During the 1952 Presidential elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first candidate to extensively utilize television commercials, creating forty twenty-second spots to answer questions from everyday Americans. During the 1960 elections, both candidates – Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy – utilized television, although Kennedy’s televised speech about his Catholic heritage and American religious tolerance is considered by many to be more memorable.

One of the first negative political advertisements was titled “The Daisy Girl” and was released by Lyndon Johnson’s campaign during the 1964 election. The commercial showed a young girl picking the petals off a daisy, while a voice off camera began a countdown to a nuclear explosion. The ad ended with an appeal to vote for Johnson, “because the stakes are too high for you to stay home.” Though the ad ran for under a minute and only aired once, it helped Johnson win the electoral votes of 44 states. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, political attack ads became even more prevalent, with Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and George H. W. Bush all utilizing the method against their opponents.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson: Lyndon B. Johnson, who successfully utilized negative political advertising in the famous “Daisy ad” during the 1964 election

The growth of cable television networks heavily influenced political advertising in the 1992 election between incumbent President George H. W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton, particularly in reaching new target demographics such as women and young voters. The 2004 election saw yet another, and possibly the biggest, change yet in political advertising–the growth of the Internet. Web-based advertising was easily distributed by both incumbent President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry’s campaigns, and both campaigns hired firms who specialized in the accumulation of personal data. This resulted in advertisements which were tailored to target specific audiences for the first time (a process known as narrowcasting). The 2008 election was notable for Senator Barack Obama ‘s use of the Internet to communicate directly and personally with supporters and constituents, a tactic that would help in his eventual victory.

Television Debates

From 1960 onward, televised debates have become an important aspect of every presidential election.

Learning Objectives

Name three key moments in the history of televised presidential debates

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The first general election presidential debate was held on September 26, 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
  • The 1976 presidential debates would lead to a victory for Jimmy Carter after a foreign policy gaffe made by incumbent Gerald Ford.
  • During the 1980 debates, former actor Ronald Reagan came across much better than President Jimmy Carter, a fact which would lead to Reagan’s landslide victory.

Key Terms

  • incumbent: Being the current holder of an office or a title.

 

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Kennedy-Nixon Debate: The Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960 was the first televised presidential debate.

Televised debates have become an important aspect of every presidential election. The first general election presidential debate was held on September 26, 1960, between Democratic nominee U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee.

With an estimated 70 million viewers watching, the first Kennedy-Nixon debate demonstrated the impact of this new medium. During the debate, Nixon looked sickly, underweight and tired. In contrast, Kennedy appeared confident and relaxed. As a result, many of those who watched the debate unfold on television believed that Kennedy had won. For the remaining three debates, Nixon regained his lost weight, wore television makeup and appeared more forceful than his initial appearance.

Televised debates were a major factor again in 1980. Earlier in the election season, President Carter had a lead over opponent Governor Ronald Reagan. In the debates, with years of experience in front of a camera as an actor, Reagan came across much better than Carter. This would eventually help to propel Reagan to a landslide victory.It was not until 1976 that a second series of televised presidential debates was held during the general election campaign season. These debates, between Governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee, and Republican incumbent President Gerald Ford, also demonstrated their dramatic effect. Ford had already cut into Carter’s large lead in the polls, and was generally viewed as having won the first debate on domestic policy. However, in a second debate on foreign policy, Ford made what was widely viewed as a major blunder when he stated, “There is no ┬áSoviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration. ” After this, Ford’s momentum stalled, and Carter won a very close election.

News Coverage

Media coverage strongly influences people’s perception of politics, society, and culture.

Learning Objectives

Name some of the central critiques of American news organizations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Perhaps the most important political function of the media is to put together a set of national priorities.
  • Agenda setting may be limited within a domestic political context because of the competition for audience interest.
  • American news media emphasizes more than ever the “horse race” aspects of the presidential campaign. This has led to criticism that audiences are not being given more substantive information about policy.

Key Terms

  • horse race: An exciting and arduous competition (as in a political campaign).

Media coverage strongly influences people’s perception of politics, society, and culture. The political analyst and consultant Gary Wasserman attests that media institutions’ “most important political function” is to play the role of an “agenda setter,” where they “[put] together an agenda of national priorities – what should be taken seriously, what lightly, what not at all. ”

Agenda-setting is somewhat limited within domestic politics. Due to the commercialized context within which they work, media institutions must compete for audience interest and can often not afford to ignore an important issue which another television station, newspaper, or radio station is willing to pick up. In regards to foreign policy, agenda-setting could take place in areas in which very few Americans have direct experience of the issues at hand. In addition, the U.S. media has been accused of prioritizing domestic news over international news, as well as focusing on U.S. military action abroad over other international stories.

American news media emphasizes more than ever the “horse race” aspects of the presidential campaign, according to a new study. Coverage of the political campaigns have been less reflective on the issues that matter to voters. Instead, the media has focused primarily on campaign tactics and strategy, according to a report conducted jointly by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center, and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The report examined 1,742 stories that appeared from January through May 2007 in 48 news outlets. Almost two-thirds of all stories in U.S. news media, including print, television, radio and online, focused on the political aspects of the campaign, while only one percent focused on the candidates ‘ public records. Only 12 percent of stories seemed relevant to voters’ decision-making. The rest of the stories focused more on tactics and strategy. Many criticize this shift in emphasis for depriving audiences of substantive information about candidates’ policy platforms.

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News Coverage: Press tables at a Barack Obama rally.

The Internet, Blogging, and Podcasting

The growth of the Internet and its associated technologies has made a profound impact on contemporary political campaigns.

Learning Objectives

Describe the various ways recent developments in technology have shaped political activity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The internet is now a core element of modern political campaigns. Communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience.
  • Political blogs, generally a series of discrete posts about political issues in which readers may submit comments (thus reinforcing its interactive nature), have become prominent method of covering politics.
  • The 2004 presidential election between incumbent President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry was the first to heavily utilize web-based advertising, with advertisements tailored toward different target audiences.
  • Internet-based activism for a wide variety of political causes has also increased due to the growth of social media technologies, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • New media has been incredibly successful at reaching the younger population while helping all populations organize and promote action.

Key Terms

  • blog: A website that allows users to reflect, share opinions, and discuss various topics in the form of an online journal while readers may comment on posts. Most blogs are written in a slightly informal tone (personal journals, news, businesses, etc. ) Entries typically appear in reverse chronological order.
  • social media: Interactive forms of media that allow users to interact with and publish to each other, generally by means of the Internet.

Introduction

The growth of the Internet and its associated technologies has had a profound impact on contemporary political campaigns.

The 2004 presidential election between incumbent President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry was the first to heavily utilize web-based advertising, with advertisements tailored toward different target audiences. President Barack Obama ‘s victory in 2008 was partially attributed to his campaign’s use of direct communication through the Internet with supporters and constituents. When discussing the 2004 U.S. presidential election candidates, Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said of the candidates which benefited from use of the Internet to attract supporters: “They are all charismatic, outspoken mavericks and insurgents. Given that the Internet is interactive and requires an affirmative action on the part of the users, as opposed to a passive response from TV users, it is not surprising that the candidate has to be someone people want to touch and interact with. ”

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Campaigns and the internet: President Obama’s campaign, depicted here, relied heavily on the use of the internet. He used the internet to connect with his constituents and win votes.

Political blogs, generally a series of discrete posts about political issues in which readers may submit comments (thus reinforcing its interactive nature), have become prominent method of covering politics. Though the medium was often originally associated with individuals operating outside the formal political and media establishment, political blogs have unquestionably shaped the actions of political leadership and voter behavior. In the United States and many other countries, the most prominent bloggers have now become an accepted fixture in the political milieu.

Podcasts, a type of digital media consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device, have also become a popular way to convey political messages.

The Impact of the Internet on Political Campaigns

The internet is now a core element of modern political campaigns. Communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts for various forms of activism to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing. Individual political candidates are also using the internet to promote their election campaign. In a study of Norwegian election campaigns, politicians reported they used social media for marketing and for dialogue with voters. Facebook was the primary platform for marketing and Twitter was used for more continuous dialogue. However, despite the opening of communications brought by the internet, elections have become more expensive due to the inevitable reliance on high-tech for all purposes in a campaign.

Signifying the importance of internet political campaigning, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign relied heavily on social media, and new media channels to engage voters, recruit campaign volunteers, and raise campaign funds. The campaign brought the spotlight on the importance of using internet in new-age political campaigning by utilizing various forms of social media and new media (including Facebook, YouTube and a custom generated social engine) to reach new target populations. The campaign’s social website, my.BarackObama.com, utilized a low cost and efficient method of mobilizing voters and increasing participation among various voter populations. This new media was incredibly successful at reaching the younger population while helping all populations organize and promote action.

Internet-based activism for a wide variety of political causes has also increased due to the growth of social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These technologies enable faster communication by grassroots citizen movements and the delivery of local information to a large audience. For example, the Internet became the catalyst for protests such as the 2011 uprisings in Arab countries and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, as those involved increasingly relied on social media to organize and stay connected.