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Television Presidential Debate in the United States

Updated July 20, 2021
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Television Presidential Debate in the United States essay

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Before the 1960s, there had never been televised Presidential debate. Before, people either listened on the radio or read about it the next day in the paper. No one had yet understood the importance of visual versus oral presentations and how things such as posture, clothing, eye contact, and charisma can impact opinion and perception of the political candidate. Even if these things such as image do not hold as much substance as content, it is still something to take into consideration when choosing the next President. The first televised Presidential debate took place in 1960 with Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican nominee Richard Nixon.

The debate took a big turn for American politics and the significance extends far beyond the 60s. Now people had the ability to be influenced not only orally, but visually as well (Kraus, 1996 and Conti, 1987). Many regarded John F. Kennedy as an attractive and charismatic man, while they also viewed Nixon as more boring, so seeing both on the television had its influence. People listening to the debate via radio would say that Nixon was the clear winner, while those watching on TV preferred Kennedy (Botelho, 2016). ‘Since the age of television, presidents have become like movie stars,’ says Greg Botelho. The media definitely favored Kennedy and his family as one of good lucks, charisma, and intellect. Now in debates it is not only about the content delivered, but also the way that one looks like while delivering.

Clearly President Kennedy won the Presidency in 1960, but how exactly did he get there? Was it his looks and posture or was it his beliefs and foundation? Or perhaps both? Before the “Great Debates” of 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon was the expected winner. With his history in public service, the amount of people who already knew him, and his speeches delivered through radio or newspapers (Botelho, 2016). Nixon had previously served as Vice President to popular President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which made his public profile higher than Senator John. F Kennedy. However, this was prior to the televised debate. Democratic nominee Kennedy quickly soared above Nixon and changed the way in which people would view Presidential debates. On TV Kennedy appeared tan, bright eyed, and had a compelling smile, while Nixon was pale and skinny from recovering from a knee injury (Giglio, 1995). Kennedy used the medium of TV to persuade, gain popularity, and show charisma to the American people. The content and appearance both come into effect when gaining the votes.

From the 1960 Presidential debate to the 2016 debate between President Trump and Hillary Clinton, the shift in media effects has drastically increased. Sidney Kraus gives five reasons on the power of TV “1. The visual component of television communication dwarfs the verbal dimension. 2. As a result of its visual component, television communicates a unique type of message. 3. Because television communication relies more heavily on pictorial symbols, it requires less active involvement by receivers in message processing. 4. Television’s proclivity toward visual messages has exerted a profound impact on American politics. 5. Television alters the manner that influence is exercised, requiring candidates to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of adapting their communication techniques to the basics of television.” (Kraus, 1996).

The public has either subconsciously or consciously seen these to be true. In the 2016, then Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump strategically used the media to his advantage. Spending record breaking amounts of money on advertisements, social media, and rallies (Open Secrets, 2016). While not many people would compare the looks and charisma of Donald Trump to President Kennedy, Trump did use his voice and power to try and convey a strong image across all platforms. Whether they were negative or positive views of Trump, the image portrayed still won him the Presidency.

Television is a medium that allows millions of people across the country to watch and therefore has a larger impact. Researcher Delia Conti says that “Television politics, emphasizing emotions over rational decision making, has been accused of warping the political process, especially in the election of the president. In the incomplete medium–the collection of dots–that is television, the viewer completes the circle of communication, filling in the image with his or her own attitudes. The feeling of participation is enhanced through certain techniques: the mobile camera, vocalics, and a conversational style, as well as the projection of character through costuming, cosmetics, kinesics, and organismics” (Conti, 1987).

So how did this event gradually begin the shift into the political campaigning today? First, it is important to note the effects of media spending. The spending can directly affect research, PACS and SUPER PACS. However, the indirect effects of this spending can influence the rhetoric used in media attention, voter opinion, advertisements, and many others (Strartmann, 2006). The progression from the 60s to current day has impacted social media, fundraising, and campaign tactics. The first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon serves as a turning point in media spending, influence, and attention in political campaigning. With the rise of Televised debates, things like advertising, image, and media started to increase.

The total costs of Presidential campaigns from 2000 to 2016 was around two billion dollars, while the average congressional cost were close to three billion (Open Secrets, 2016). The average spent in the 2000 Presidential campaign between George Bush and Al Gore was 1.4 billion and the average spent in the 2016 Presidential election increased to 2.4 billion. As time has progressed, so has campaign spending habits. In just 16 years, there was a one billion dollar jump in spending. The money spent in all Presidential elections from 1960 to 2012, which have been adjusted to inflation, population, and income through the years.

Television Presidential Debate in the United States essay

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Television Presidential Debate in the United States. (2021, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/television-presidential-debate-in-the-united-states/

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