It’s President’s Day February 18th. With that, it’s worth discussing the gradual, double-edged communication sword candidates have had to integrate into their campaign to get their ideas to the voting public. Today, information technology has given candidates faster, easier ways to present their solutions and ideas to Americans. It also means the news cycle is quicker and reaches a wider audience if there is a slip up in their strategy or if a candidate misspeaks or gets some facts wrong.
George Washington never campaigned openly for the Presidency. He was ambitious but thought brazenly crusading for the office to be uncouth. He was a master at working behind the scenes, talking to the right people, while appearing to not covet the office but would accept it for the betterment of the nation. As history shows, Washington was the perfect person to be the first President because he didn’t want any royal titles and his leaving after two terms set the standard for years to come.
In 1836, William Henry Harrison first used a train to campaign across America. Later in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first to openly campaign for the Presidency running against incumbent Martin Van Buren with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Tyler Too” refers to John Tyler who would take office after President Harrison’s death due to sickness brought on by a one hour and 45 minute inauguration speech in the freezing, cold, Washington, DC, winter. Harrison served one month before Tyler assumed the office.
Despite the use of mass transportation such as trains, Candidates James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1896 won their elections by just sitting on the porch and welcoming visitors and serving drinks. While they were visiting, the candidates had the opportunity to present their ideas and give campaign speeches. McKinley was also reportedly the first to use the telephone to make campaign calls.
After the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to be documented on film delivering campaign speeches. His bombastic, fist pumping style was perfectly suited for silent film.
Soon afterwards, radio broadcasts appeared on the political scene. President Calvin Coolidge used radio to deliver addresses in the early 1920s. Later, the 1924 election featured the candidates Coolidge and Democratic candidate John Davis delivering campaign speeches on the radio.
The Presidential debates and conventions in 1952 were the first to use the television medium to get their ideas to the public. Eisenhower’s campaign created the first TV ad. The catchy tune, “We Like Ike.” Later, President Lyndon Johnson used the television medium effectively for the “Daisy” campaign ad that ran only once but was effective in beating Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964’s election. Before the development of cable and 24 hour news channels, candidates planned their strategy with the realization that fewer television channels and reporters existed. However, the audiences were larger per channel. Even so, the Public Broadcasting System didn’t begin until 1970.
Today the press pool is larger and news channels and producers require a constant news cycle with pressure to fill the air space and get ratings.
Presidential Candidates have to negotiate several cable news organizations as well as local affiliate news reporters and anchors. In addition, the internet, YouTube, Twitter, blog writers, mobile media have given candidates more information streams. Candidates also use or have to make themselves available for the morning talk show circuit on radio and television. Talk radio has also entered the world of campaigning that can keep a story alive well after the initial news cycle.
The 1996 campaign was the first to use the internet to send out literature such as brochures and other media. The 2000 campaign candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, each created and maintained their websites. Since then, the internet, with ads, email, and other informational sites, has continually evolved to be a significant part of a campaign.
Despite several additional communication sources to reach the voting public, there is no substitute for face to face, personal exposure–the shaking of a potential voter’s hands. The modern age has seen the use of trains as a recurring theme for presidential candidates. Besides Harrison being the first, others that have used the rails are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and most famously, Harry S. Truman on his whistle-stop tour.
All of this means that candidates and incumbents have more ways, more paths, more streams to influence voters, get their ideas out, and communicate how they are better for the country than the other person. With these tools for discovery, it is entirely possible voters will elect a woman to the highest office, and soon.
The other side of the coin is that with more opportunities to reach and more hours in the day speaking on the public stage, the chances for a mistake or a misstep increase. The good news is; it is easier to correct it if you have a counter strategy. Technology is here to stay and the days of a candidate sitting at home on the front porch waiting for voters to arrive to hear him speak are long gone.