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BLOG 3: Political Campaigns since Nixon

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“We’re going to carry New York State, for instance, despite the Times and Post…TV is carrying our campaign.  And Nixon loves it.  He’s overjoyed he no longer has to depend on the press.”
-Frank Shakespeare

Since Nixon ran for president in 1960 and 1968, presidential campaigns have evolved and come ingrained in nearly ever medium to reach the target audience – the voters.  After his disastrous media campaign in the 1960 election, Nixon needed to revamp and finally take advantage of the television medium.  I agree with McGinnis that television is dependent on a candidate’s personality, not for the candidates ideas: “His personality is what viewers want to share” (29).

Style is crucial for a campaign to work.  Candidates cannot be too serious, but, instead must appeal to the people in dress, voice tonality and talking points.  The American public was scared of Nixon; conversely, a candidate today needs to be conversational and comforting, much like Barack Obama.

Presidential candidates cannot hide from the press or rely on controlled events.  With cable networks, morning shows and press conferences, candidates must answer questions blindly.  Each network has their own agenda and interests, and candidates must be ready to answer.  They can’t formulate their own audience, like Nixon’s staff did in 1968.  One panel member represented a demographic group in each of Nixon’s controlled conferences, but our culture is more crosscut. Candidates must speak across different lines to diverse groups of people – and be prepared for the press to challenge them.

While the power of columnists has decreased since the 1960s, print and Internet press are vital to a campaign’s success. More candidates appear on the cover of magazines with soft, personal based articles to appeal to the voters.  The press cannot be ignored, with   44,000 newspaper journalist alone.  Nixon felt like he didn’t have to depend on the press with his controlled events, but the press is crucial to success – letting people into the candidates lives and personal history.  Obama’s wife and children were crucial to his campaign success.

They let us inside of their lives, to help voters see they are just a “normal” family.  George W. Bush’s twins, Jenna and Barbra, and his wives were featured in the 2000 and 2004 campaign trail.  Viewers want to vote for someone they can “sit down and have a beer with” and engaging into that personal world is crucial to building this relationship.

With so many journalists today, families cannot be ignored in the campaign process.If politicians won’t invite us in, the press (or Saturday  Night Live) find a way to invade their lives.  Chelsea Clinton’s education became a news topic, as well as her looks and eventual growth spurt.  Regardless of what issue it is, the American people want to know about a candidate’s personal life.   Look at what Sarah Palin’s family did in the 2008 election; the Palins became a news frenzy.

In Nixon’s 1968, it was difficult for his advertising team to find credible and nationally famous celebrities for support.   Art Linkletter,  Bud Wilkerson, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, John Wayne, and Lawrence Welk were among Nixon’s celebrity supporters.  Unfortunately, many celebrities, like Welk, didn’t want their name used in the campaign.  Humphrey had a substantial backing from the infamous Paul Newman, but nothing compared to today.  Contrast that to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign – celebrities from A-List to D-List jumped on the bandwagon in support of Obama.

Today’s culture glorifies celebrities.  McGinnis describes the “television celebrity” of the 60s, but I think this quote is more applicable to the celebrities of today:

“The television celebrity is a vessel.  An inoffensive container in which someone else’s knowledge, insight, compassion, or wit can be presented.  And we respond like the child on Christmas morning who ignores the gift to play with wrapping paper.” (29)

What I did find innovative about the 1968 campaign was its targeted commercials.  NIxon’s advertisements targeted different issues in the political spectrum, with the candidate narrating to pictures panning on the screen.  One commercial was particularly well targeted to the youth demographic – an age group that became a significant target in the 2004 “Rock the Vote” campaign, as well as Obama’s campaign in 2008.  With the baby boomers coming of voting age in 1968, Nixon’s knew this target would be vital for a win.

Obama’s campaign was no exception; he spoke in a casual, conversational  tone that was relatable to young voters.  He had Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, running his online campaign to target millennials.  This youth booth had been falling through the 80s and early 90s, but the 2004 and 2008 campaigns showed substantial growth with increased youth advertising.  Thanks to Hughes and the Obama “millennial campaign,” the 2008 vote increased to 51.1% in 2008, while older adults voted at lower rates.

When told Yes We Can, their response is Of Course We Can. When asked to help create change, they set about on their projects on behalf of the campaign. Obama reinforced that message throughout the campaign by reiterating that it wasn’t about him, it was about them.  – Obama’s Millenial Marketers

Presidential campaigns have evolved since the 1960s and perhaps, we’ll see a further evolution in the coming years.  With a changing media culture, we cannot predict the future, but change will indeed come!

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