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Campaign Song-book from Garfield Campaign
Politics and Economy:
Election 2004
More on This Story:
The Evolution of Campaign Ads

Historians date the very beginning of American campaign costs to money spent on advertising. In 1791, groups supporting and opposing Alexander Hamilton published competing newspapers in hopes of swaying the electorate. Media and campaign advertising have come a long way since then. Most successful campaigns include a huge budget for television advertising — and not just campaigns for presidential candidates. Media industry magazine BROADCASTING AND CABLE reported in late January on a new study which projects 1.6 billion dollars in campaign ad spending for this election year. What's new and what's old? Take a look back at campaign ad history below or learn about how to analyze today's campaign ads.

Garfield and Arthur Campaign Songbook

In 1880 there was no mass media as we now know it so candidates had to rely on other means to get their message out and their names recognized. Following on a long tradition of sharing news through song or ballad, the 1880 campaign of James Garfield and Chester Arthur relied in part on this songbook.

It is easy to see familiar themes in this effort to define and publicize the candidate. Garfield is shown as a man in sympathy with the common man. The song "Boatman Jim" reminiscences about his youth "In the field by plough and shop behold him, Wielding labor's tools." The songs also emphasize Garfield's military experience, in this case in The Civil War. "Mid sabre clash and musket rattle, He bore the foemen down." And many of the tunes (Soldiers' Marsellaise, "Republicans Remember") remind former soldiers of the war just twenty years before. Of course Garfield's backers made an attempt to paint his foe in an unflattering light in such as "Bourbon Democracee." full of images of "Old Nick," hogs and Rebs. And, in fine campaign tradition promises were made, "The Good time's coming boys. Wait till next November..."

Herbert Hoover Election Ad

Politicians today may lament having to come up with a message that will resonate in a 30-second TV spot. But for generations candidates have been attempting the same feat with a one-liner — the slogan. These few samples listed below from the past century and a half follow familiar campaign themes. Henry Clay's 1844 "Who is James K. Polk?" is reminiscent of "Where's the Beef?" Promises of economic wellbeing are a constant too. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln said "Vote Yourself a Farm" — in 1900 William McKinley promised "A Full Dinner-Pail." And in 1956, Eisenhower ran for re-election on his "Peace and Prosperity" platform. Among the most amusing of the negative slogans about an opponent was Warren G. Harding's "Cox and Cocktails," designed to appeal to the Prohibition forces.

The advertisement pictured to the left promised prosperity and "A Chicken for Every Pot" with a vote for Herbert Hoover. Placed in THE NEW YORK TIMES by a group of Republican businessmen in 1928, the ad and the slogan came back to haunt Hoover. Although it was never his official campaign slogan, the phrase, and an added promise of "two cars in every garage" was used by the Democrats to show that Hoover was hopelessly out of touch with the suffering of Americans now in the midst of the Great Depression.

Nixon campaign image

Campaign advertising entered the television age in 1952, when an adman previously famous for "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands," among other slogans, suggested television advertising to President Eisenhower. The Museum of Television and Radio in its history of presidential campaign ads notes that in 1948 Harry Truman had travelled 31,000 miles in his campaign trips. Eisenhower reached 19 million television sets in American homes by making one trip to a New York studio.

The American Museum of the Moving Image presents a Web feature which allows you to view nearly all the presidential campaign spots for the past fifty years. Both winners and loser's spots are shown, and each is accompanied by detailed historical analysis.

Pat Nixon and little girl

There is a whole advertising industry today built just to plan and promote candidates through the media. Major universities teach graduate courses in "Campaign Advertising and Promotion." Campaign ad professionals even have their own awards show — The Pollies. And, of course, there are academics who study the effects of their ads on the voting populace.

The hot topic for pundits and researchers these days is the efficacy of the negative campaign ad. Two University of Georgia researchers have found that attack ads linger and grow more powerful in voter's minds. However, exit polling results from recent campaigns also indicate that voters don't like campaigns they view as negative.

Regardless, candidates are sure to continue spending their dollars on consultants who can answer questions like the following one, posted on a Pollie-winning campaign ad specialist's Web site: "My opponent launched an attack ad against me and the elections are in one week — what can I do?"

Additional Sources: BROADCASTING AND CABLE; Negative Campaign Ads Have A Lasting Impact On Voters, University of Georgia; RESEARCH MAGAZINE, "Negative Ads, Positive Outcomes;" New York University Political Campaign Management Program

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