Political advertising has become key to winning any political election, especially presidential campaigns. As Election Day draws near, voters are barraged by a plethora of political advertising. When the public turns on their TV, computer, or radio, when they walk outside, or when they look in their mailbox, political advertising is everywhere. Not only does it come from different places, but political advertising comes in many assorted forms as well. They might be attack ads or emotional ads or issue ads. There are almost no rules for political advertising.
Political advertising campaigns appear throughout all forms of media, including broadcast, Internet, print, and outdoor media. In broadcast media, political advertising appears mainly in the form of radio and television ads. Internet media is a new and rapidly growing part of political campaigning. Currently, ads, blogs, wikis, YouTube videos, websites, and podcasts are popular, but the Internet is still evolving. Print media is a diverse form of media. There are newspapers, magazines, periodicals, pamphlets, circulars, and fliers. For outdoor media, billboards, bumper stickers, and lawn signs are commonly used.
There are many different types of political advertisements. Most are attack ads, better know as smear ads. An attack ad is an advertisement meant to attack an opposing candidate or political party. They are generally negative and criticize the adversary’s political platform by highlighting the opponent’s faults and comparing them to the candidate’s own platform. However, biographical, emotional, endorsement, factual, humorous, issue, personal, record, and response ads are also used. A biographical ad is an advertisement that states the candidate’s past careers and education, while an emotional ad is an advertisement that reaches its audience on an emotional level. For example, an emotional ad might show a soldier’s mother grieving over her son’s casket with the message “How many more mothers need to bury their sons before the U.S. army leaves Iraq? Vote for ***. He/she will end this war.”
Political advertisements do not have to follow any rules or guidelines. There is no regulatory group that governs what commercials are allowed to say, or what can be printed on flyers. The only stipulation is that the group or candidate that is paying for the ad needs to be identified. Beyond that, political advertising can say whatever it wants no matter how misleading, unfair, or blatantly critical of the political candidates. Candidates can, however, sue for defamation of character.
Most people choose to be a Democrat or Republican early in life. For that reason, most do not often change their political affiliations, especially not because of advertising. Consequently, negative advertising can be more effective than positive advertising. Positive advertising reinforces a person’s political loyalty, which doesn’t affect their vote. However, negative advertising discourages people from voting for their party. Rather than switching parties, most people just don’t vote. In doing so, candidates lower the number of votes their adversaries receive and, accordingly, lower the number of votes they need to win.
the whole, political advertising is a crucial factor in political campaigning.
Candidates who cannot afford to advertise run the risk of not getting
their name or platform out to potential voters. Successful candidates
are those that spend their advertising dollars wisely.
Presidential candidates have long relied on direct mail as a way to get their message to the public. Direct mail is an older method of campaign communication and is not the most effective for attracting voters. According to an experiment supported by the American Political Science Association, “The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment” by Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green, voter turnout increases only slightly because of direct mail.
In elections prior to the 2000, the use of direct mail was significant. Voter turnout had decreased over the years and candidates, as a way to motivate voters, turned to direct mail. Candidates hoped to bombard voters with images to motivate them to get out and vote. Mail can be targeted to specific groups and can have a precise message for that group alone. However, direct mail has been found to be more beneficial in local and state elections rather than in presidential elections and campaigns.
Direct mail can be used either to applaud a candidate or to attack one. Candidates will use direct mail to attack the opposing candidates. Sending a printed message to voters outlining a candidate’s negative traits and deeds can have a large impact. Direct mail is also sent to a candidate’s supporters in the hope of making the support even stronger.
During the present presidential campaign, John McCain commenced a direct
mail attack on an opposing candidate, Mitt Romney.
Political advertising has changed in many ways since campaigns first started. Radio is an invention that changed the campaign process in many ways.
Radio was first used by presidential candidates in the campaign leading up to the 1924 presidential election. The candidates were Calvin Coolidge, John W. Davis, and Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. The 1924 Republican and Democratic National Conventions were the first to be broadcast on the radio. Radio stations set up microphones and glass booths. They set up at both the Republican National Convention and at the Democratic National Convention in order to bring this coverage to voters. Before 1924, political conventions were designed for the delegates alone. After radio became a standard appliance in American homes, political conventions became accessible to many voters throughout the country. At first radios were used to bring events of the conventions to listeners. Later, candidates started using radio as a way to advertise.
In the 1924 election, the candidates’ acceptation speeches were aired over the radio, along with numerous other speeches. Although the candidates or their parties had to purchase the radio time, their broadcasts usually brought in many donations. Candidates traveled across the country and stopped to speak and promote themselves at many radio stations and spread their word out to many people. In the final two weeks before the election, the Republicans even bought all the time on two radio stations and had Republican politicians continually speaking until election day. Radio changed the way campaigns were run.
From this point on, speechmaking became a different process. Candidates now needed to present their thoughts in a much more engaging way, since during the speeches aired over the radio voters were concentrating only on the candidates’ words. The radio also changed the audience to which candidates spoke. The candidates now had access to many more voters and these voters often had varied political views. Candidates learned how to appeal to the most people from all political parties in order to be elected President. In the 1924 campaign the new idea of short-wave radio was used to broadcast Calvin Coolidge’s speech across America and across the Atlantic Ocean to Great Britain. By the 1928 election, the radio had become a major campaign tool in order for candidates to reach out to listeners and voters. The radio remained extremely important to political campaigns for years, until television began to gain popularity.
Radio was most popular until the 1950s, which is when more Americans
began owning televisions. Even though in today’s world listening
to commercial radio has dropped by twenty percent, presidential candidates
are still creating radio advertisements. Today’s advertisements
are not only being played in English, but in Spanish as well in order
to reach the greatest amount of voters. (see
Influential Factors: Ethnicity) Candidates still use the radio today
as a way of advertising and as a way of reaching out to the people.
Television has played a major role in political campaigns for a long time. When Roger Ailes, Richard Nixon’s campaign consultant said in 1968, “Television is no gimmick, and nobody will ever be elected to major office again without presenting themselves well on it,” he was certainly correct. Although the use of television in political campaigns has changed significantly since it first was introduced in the early 1950’s, it has proven to be one of the single most important, and expensive, strategies that candidates employ. Television effects how the general public perceives candidates and may be the most effective campaign tool.
Political candidates use television to gain support in many ways. While it started out as a means of advertising in the early 1950’s, by 1960, in the race between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, television was used to broadcast presidential debates (see Historical Perspective.) Many actually credit these broadcast debates as the primary reason for Kennedy’s success in that race.
In 1948, approximately 400,000 people owned a television set. Remarkably, four years later that figure rose to about nineteen million people. For this reason, television advertising seemed to be a logical way to reach people everywhere and get messages out to a large audience.
The first campaign that used television advertising was that of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Rosser Reeves “convinced Dwight Eisenhower that spot ads of twenty-seconds, played during popular TV programs such as “I Love Lucy,” would reach more voters than any other form of advertising.” (The Living Room Candidate: Introduction) Anyone who watched popular sitcoms at that time certainly saw these advertisements. There was no other way to reach millions of people simultaneously. These short commercials stuck in people’s mind. From this point on, televised advertisements were a staple in all major campaigns.
From the beginning, there have been many different types of political television advertisements. Some advertisements are made by the candidate as a promotion, while others are used to attack a position of the opponent.
One major type of political advertising commercial is a “backfire.” A backfire shows a candidate in a “flip-flop” situation. A “flip-flop” occurs when a candidate first says one thing, or takes one position, but later changes their mind. Another type of backfire commercial is one in which a candidate’s words or images are used against himself/herself. This may come into play if a candidate says something negative about the country or shows a lack of national pride. Another type of backfire commercial is one where a candidate breaks a promise. These commercials make the opponents look bad. Many voters, however, do not like this type of advertising, so they must be used with caution.
Biographical advertising commercials show candidates in good light. They spotlight the candidate’s good qualities, qualifications, and achievements. They help the candidate become better known. Voters tend to like these types of advertisements. They illustrate reasons why a candidate may be suitable for office during a specific time. For example, if a candidate was a soldier or a commander of an important and well-known war, people may be more apt to vote for him or her during wartime. Little-known candidates often are able to use biographical commercials to illustrate their positive past actions and make themselves more well-liked and popular.
Political candidates have often used children in television advertisements. These get powerful reactions from people because of their emotional component. These commercials have the ability to invoke fear, anxiety, and hope in people. Candidates use children to stir emotions in the population. Through these commercials, candidates are able to gain support for a topic, and, most importantly, themselves. One of the most powerful examples of this type of advertisement was one that Lyndon Johnson used in 1964 against Barry Goldwater, who was considered to be a war-monger. (This ad can be viewed on the website, "The Living Room Candidate.")
form of political television advertising uses real people. Candidates
are shown talking and walking with everyday people. Candidates are displayed
as being “just like everyone else.” The situations look
candid and unrehearsed. Real people are also used in commercials through
testimonials from people on the street. The format is very much like
documentary commercials. Voters like these commercials because it appears
that there are “bonds” between voters and candidates. Candidates
act like any other citizen, and for that reason, should be elected to
office. Certain groups of people may be targeted in these clips, such
as women or minorities. Candidates want to win over as many people from
specific groups as possible to have a diverse following. Commercials
using "real people" help give a connection with the candidates
and make voters feel like the candidate is the best choice for the people.
Though the term “telemarketing” became popular about 40 years ago, it has become a very important element of advertising in political campaigns. Telephone solicitation, or telemarketing is a technique of direct marketing involving a salesperson soliciting via a telephone. Political telemarketers “solicit” for the customers vote.
Political telemarketers call potential and current “customers”. These “customers” are called on for votes or money. Potential “customers” can be swing voters, who do not vote with one particular political party, and can be influenced into voting for a candidate. Potential “customers” can also be voters from whom the telemarketers are calling on for donations. Current “customers” are voters already affiliated with the particular party. They might be called upon to help accumulate more voters, or they could be called on to give another donation. Other political telemarketers call a large group of diverse people to conduct a public opinion poll (see Influential Factors, Polling.) A poll could help indicate regions where their candidate has weak support and therefore should schedule personal appearances.
Telemarketing has regulations and procedures. However, free-speech issues allow political telemarketing to be quite flexible. Telemarketing may be done from a business office, a call center, or home. It may have a live operator, but it may also be an automated telemarketing message, or prerecorded message.
As with most processes, once telemarketing started, new technology followed it. Two particular pieces of technology used for political telemarketing include the auto dialer and the predictive dialer. An auto dialer is also known as an automaker or automatic calling unit. It is an electronic machine that automatically dials telephone numbers and either plays a prerecorded message or transmits a digital message. A predictive dialer is a mechanized system that automatically calls groups of phone numbers. The call is immediately connected to one of any of the available agents. Because many agents are needed to keep the predictive dialer at work they are usually found at call centers, where many agents are available.
Telemarketing doesn’t cost nearly as much as television advertising
and can give a personal touch to any campaign. It also has become easier
with the new technology available.
Presidential debates have become a given in the political election process. Candidates are asked questions about some of the most controversial topics. There is a time limit for responses and follow-up questions and rebuttals are usually allowed. The specific formats are decided by a secret memorandum of agreement between the two parties and are sometimes shared with the public. Other times, voters must wait until the debate is to take place.
Today, presidential debates are broadcast on television and in this election year, 2008, have been broadcast over the Internet (see section on You Tube.) In some cases, debates have played a large role in the outcome of the elections. Presidential debates weren’t always broadcast as they are now. Debates have changed a great deal over the last fifty years, but still serve the same purpose: to inform the general public on where candidates stand on particular issues.
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas paved the way for the debates of today in their quest for the Illinois Senate seat. Lincoln followed Douglas around the state, commenting at Douglas' public appearances. This prompted Douglas to agree to seven debates. These were attended by thousands of people, but at that time, senators were not elected by the public but by state legislatures. The public attended out of interest and for amusement only.
The next time a debate took place was not until 1948. (Wendell Wilkie did challenge Franklin D. Roosevelt to a debate in 1940, but Roosevelt declined.) At this debate, two Republican candidates, Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen debated and this was broadcast on radio. There was a single topic: "Should the American Communist Party be Banned."
All debates have formats and rules that candidates much follow. These rules, although fairly consistent, have changed throughout the years. The following rules all were followed in the first debate, as some changes were made as the campaign pressure increased and the time left until the election dwindled.
In 1960, candidates were given eight-minutes for their opening statement. Panelists would alternate, asking questions to each candidate. Candidates could respond for up to two and a half minutes. In return, the opposition was allowed to give what is called a rebuttal, or a response to the answer.
In 1976, candidates were then given three minutes to respond. The panelists could ask follow up questions, and then candidates were allotted two minutes to again respond. Candidates finally could give a closing statement, wrapping up the debate and pushing their points for three minutes. This debate was very much so like the debate in 1960, with the exceptions of the changes mentioned above.
The debate format changed only slightly going into 1980. Here, candidates reverted back to the 1960 format, having two and a half minutes to respond to questions. One minute was given to answer follow up questions. Candidates could first rebut their opponent’s answers here, but for only 15 seconds. Other then those changes, the debate was just as it was in 1976.
The next major change didn’t happen again until 1988, when the debate was timed at 90 minutes. Questions were distributed symmetrically between domestic and international issues. In this debate, there were both panelist follow-up questions and opponent rebuttals. Then, in 1996, candidates response times were shortened down to 90 seconds with 30 seconds for the follow up question. Rebuttals were 60 seconds. Although these debates all differ, the main format is the same.
time goes on, debates change to fit with the times. Debates need to
fit the circumstances and help inform the public with as much information
as possible. In 2007, for example, the first CNN/You Tube Debate was
held, illustrating acutely how debates can change with the technology
and times at hand. In any case, a debate is still a debate, and a candidate
is only as good as his or her answers.
The impact of the Internet in the current campaign has been significant. Every candidate has at least one website and some have more than one. These sites encourage voters to support a candidate and have become a major source of fundraising in the current election campaign.
The sites generally highlight a candidate's position on issues, his/her successes and accomplishments and contain many links to other Internet sites that the candidate may have as well (ie., Facebook, MySpace, etc.). The advantage of websites over more traditional promotional material is that the sites can be changed on a continual basis. They can respond to current issues and situations immediately, without having to wait for the story to get to the press via television, radio or newspaper. Internet presence has radically changed the way that candidates get their message to the public.
candidate aspires to have his/her site set them apart from the others,
using color, graphics, photos and links to other social networking sites.
Barak Obama's site opens with an appeal for funds; he has raised more
money than any other candidate to date, mostly because of his success
in soliciting through his website. Hillary Clinton's site refers to
"Hillraisers," a term coined by her campaign referring to
her supporters and donors. Mitt Romney's site had a personal touch;
there was a link to a blog, "Five Brothers," written by his
brothers in support of his campaign. John McCain appealed to voters
by offering a story about his Christmas spent as a prisoner of war in
Political blogs are revolutionary and have dramatically altered the political scene. They can be changed or added to at any time, unlike newspapers or broadcasts. Almost as soon as words are out of a candidate’s mouth, they are being commented upon in political blogs.
The first major scandal involving political blogs involved remarks made by U.S. Senator Trent Lott, when the senator remarked that U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran on a segregationist platform in 1948, would have made a good president. In 2003, political candidates Howard Dean and Wesley Clark used their blogs to publicize their campaigns. Neither candidate won the Democratic nomination, but both were thought of, at one time or another, as the one to beat. Another controversy uncovered by political blogs was George W. Bush’s alleged favoritism granted on him while in the National Guard.
Political blogs open up new opportunities for voters and candidates alike. Much more information is available about candidates for voters, and the candidates themselves can get a pulse of the voting public by reading blogs of all types and political slants.
political blogging is the “new wave” in political campaigning.
Though newer “waves” are expected to come, political blogs
have opened up the floodgates to political information. They contain
many controversial and unverified facts, allow information to be updated
by the minute, rather than by the day or by the hour, and have allowed
the voters to be better informed, while providing candidates with a
better look into the minds of the voters. Political blogs have changed
political campaigns, though some would not agree that the change is
According to Wikipedia.com, the world’s most well-known wiki, a wiki is “a type of computer software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages.” The word wiki is a Hawaiian word that means quickly. Currently, wikis are the tenth most visited type of website, drawing an audience of at least 6 billion page views every month! The topics of wikis range from culture and the arts to reference, travel, technology, and politics.
In campaigns, wikis have many purposes. The first is to help make candidates look more attractive. Anyone is able to edit wikis, so sometimes candidates, their employees and supporters will edit the pages. Candidates may add personal information such as their sports accomplishments in high school. Candidates can also delete minor embarrassing facts found in their wiki. Campaign managers and candidates use wikis to their advantages, adding and deleting information as they see fit.
Another use of wikis is to damage those on the opposing side. Recently an employee of the New York Times was caught changing a descriptive adjective on President George Bush’s wiki entry to “jerk” twelve times. Some entries in the Wikipedia are no longer editable because of situations like this one. Too many people edit controversial entries, resulting in what some people call “content wars.” This refers to an entry that is constantly being changed by people taking one point of view, and then changed again by those on the opposing point of view. At this writing (April 1, 2008), the Wikipedia entry for Barak Obama is protected, until disputes about its content can be resolved.
In the end, the fact that anyone can, and will, edit wikis causes people to question their validity. Can wikis be trusted? In order to check the truthfulness of statements made of wikis, one is able to check the sources from which information was found. The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, said, “You can’t stop the vandals, in real life or on the Internet. But…each of these articles are constantly evolving, constantly being edited, constantly being improved.” Wikis are often the source of some of the best, most timely information. Wikis are helpful resources, despite their flaws.
long as the facts are properly cited, there should be no reason why
wikis cannot be used and trusted. People need to be selective, do their
research, and use their best judgment to decide the validity of information.
Most important, the facts found on wikis should be validated using another
Social networking and social media sites such as Myspace, Facebook, Searchles, and Eons (for mature audiences) have recently offered a new outlet for political candidates to reach out to the voting population. Although not all candidates have taken advantage of these networking sites, they are being used by many campaigns. Since the idea is fairly recent, candidates may not be using these sites to their complete advantage yet. Candidates reach out to the youth and a new generation of voters by using these social networking sites.
Myspace and Facebook may help candidates gain support from voters, but they can also be used negatively against the candidates. Unauthorized pages about the candidates have been made and those pages are not not necessarily accurate. Online “friends” can leave negative messages which are available to the public or to other “friends” until the account holder deletes the messages. These statements could be offensive to other voters. In these cases, candidates may actually lose support that they may have gained in other ways.
Social networking sites can portray candidates as they want to be seen, and gives them a chance to make connections to today’s youth. Connecting to the young and a new generation of voters is the goal of many candidates in present day elections. These sites show the candidates' views on important issues in a different light. Voters are able to get more information on candidates than ever before. The social networking profiles of candidates allow for a more personal view of being brought to the public and allows all candidates, no matter their popularity level, a chance to be seen by the public.
“The social media phenomena has enabled the lesser known candidates to effectively get a campaign off the ground and compete with the well established candidates in fundraising, garnering support, and spreading their respective messages. This has resulted in wider dialogue on current events, issues, and policy proposals", says from Elias Shams, CEO of Searchles. "The more information the voters have access to, the more democratic the process gets and we're just excited to play a role."
Social networking sites can spread messages very quickly. Videos that are unauthorized by candidates such as “Obama Girl” have millions of views already. These sites spread the good and the bad extremely quickly.
Barack Obama has enlisted the help of one of the founders of Facebook to create his own social networking site. He is using this site for the campaign. The site, My.BarackObama.com, helps many voters stay informed and allows Mr. Obama's actions to be followed. Barack Obama is not the only candidate with links off his official page to social networking sites. Hillary Clinton and Fred Thompson both have links to Facebook and MySpace profiles. Other candidates have links to YouTube. Obama however, is the only one to create his own site. His site has appealed to over 250,000 people, who have all made profiles on My.BarackObama.com.
Social Networking sites help candidates gain support. They reach out
to voters on a more personal level then has ever been known before by
using technology. Social networking sites also help display the candidates’
schedules, along with any fundraisers or actions these candidates are
Because of YouTube, political candidates have been subject to this new standard of production. The “perfect” commercials took a side stage to the uncensored, casual, and unofficial ones. Although rehearsed videos do exist on YouTube, a candidate cannot control what appears on the site because anyone can capture film at political events and upload that video to YouTube. One of the most famous examples of how YouTube has affected the 2008 campaign involves Senator George Allen, who was “caught” using inappropriate language when referring to the Hispanic population. This incident is credited with stopping his bid for the Presidency.
YouTube has also give candidates another place to state their platforms on issues and grab the greatest numbers of supporters. Almost every candidate has her or his own personal YouTube profile. Candidates display all kinds of videos: speeches that announce their candidacy, testimonials, speeches on issues and even humorous videos such as Hillary Clinton’s “Caucusing is Easy.” In March 2008, Barak Obama’s speech on race relations, which was made to counter the bad press he received regarding the alleged anti-American feelings of his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, was posted on YouTube and had been viewed by 3.7 million people one week after it had aired.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of how YouTube has helped to promote a candidate, is the story of the "I Got a Crush on Obama" video, showing a young, attractive woman singing a song about her attraction to the candidate Barak Obama. This video was not made by the Obama camp, and Obama's daughter was upset by the video. It was created by an advertising executive and through the sale of the shorts and t-shirt worn in the video, raised money for the homeless in Philadelphia. The video has been viewed close to eight million times as of April 1, 2008
Because of the ease of posting content to YouTube, and the fact that anyone can do it, candidates have had to take a proactive stance to react to the potential damage it can do to a campaign, as in the case of Senator Allen. Hillary Clinton has actually started the website, Hillary Hub to counteract any negative criticism and address the attack immediately.
use of YouTube by political candidates serves to engage a new, more
tech savvy audience.