Parties and Platforms

Campaigns and Nominations

How have candidates used the media to their advantage during the campaigning process?

Today, the media covers early campaign strategy, presidential primaries, party conventions, presidential debates, and dozens of other campaign happenings up until the November election. Presidential candidates use the media to showcase their platform issues and personalities, playing to a host of radio, television, and Internet opportunities. In the early days of campaigning, this precedent was set by Theodore Roosevelt, who encouraged media coverage of his family, and was greatly expanded upon by Warren G. Harding and his wife, Florence, during his 1920 campaign. In the 1930s and 1940s, radio and then film emerged as a major campaign communications tool, and candidates took advantage of radio and newsreels in an effort to reach a mass audience at unprecedented levels. Notwithstanding the large circulation rates of the daily newspapers, from 1920 to 1950, radio continued to be the major political information source for most Americans. Television surpassed radio’s dominance during the presidential election of 1952, when an estimated fifty-three percent of the population watched television programs on the Dwight Eisenhower–Adlai Stevenson race.

Since 1952, when full-scale television coverage of the national conventions began, the media took on a new dimension for the presidential candidate. That year Dwight D. Eisenhower spent almost two million dollars on television advertising. Since that time, television has been used to project the candidate’s image and stance on various issues. Paid advertising, news coverage, and presidential debates have thrived on television. In fact, New York Times columnist Russell Baker wrote that after the high-profile 1960 televised debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, “television replaced newspapers as the most important communications medium in American politics.” In 1992, television reached new heights in the campaigning process when billionaire H. Ross Perot bought air time to produce infomercials and made the rounds on the morning and late-night talk-show circuits. The 1990s also saw the dramatic rise of the candidates’ use of e-mail, fax, direct-mail, videos, and other alternate media formats. Blogs, website forums for communication among supporters of a candidate, became popular in the 2004 presidential campaign. Pioneered by Democratic dark horse candidate Howard Dean, blogs were quickly created for nominees George W. Bush and John Kerry.

President Carter used television to try and convey a more neighborly atmosphere in national addresses that he called “fireside chats.”


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