5 Ways TV Has Influenced Presidential Elections


The Introduction of Campaign Ads

When an election year rolls around, you can always count on seeing a flood of politically themed commercials. Political ads have become a huge part of campaigns. From national, to state and local elections, 50 to 75 percent of a campaign's funds are typically spent on ad production and air time [source: Kaid].

Ads are effective because they can reach people who aren't usually interested in reading campaign coverage, attending rallies or watching the news. Campaigns buy up time during popular programs so they can catch these potential voters off guard. And it works. Research has shown that voters pay more attention to political spots and ads to learn about the issues of a political race, compared to other news sources [source: Dover]. Some might see that as a sign that people are becoming more ignorant, but political ads are not necessarily misleading; they are actually more likely to engage specific issues and candidates' records than news broadcasts, which focus more on candidates' personalities [source: Dover].

One of the first presidential candidates to learn the power of TV ads was Dwight Eisenhower. He hired Rosser Reeves, a Madison Avenue ad exec who had produced a popular campaign for M&M's, to design ads for his 1952 campaign. Using jingles and slogans including "I like Ike," the ads painted the candidate as a friendly and personable leader. Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson refused to use ads, and instead chose to buy up blocks of network time to deliver speeches. After being trounced in the 1952 election, Stevenson returned in the '56 election for a rematch with Eisenhower -- this time, with political ads [source: NPR].