Posted by: paulfbove | June 9, 2008

Changes in Campaigns Since the 1948 and 1972 Elections

Reading The Last Campaign and The Boys on the Bus during a campaign year really makes the books all the more interesting. Even more telling, though, is the span of years that has passed between the books and present day. The Last Campaign covers the 1948 race between Truman and Dewey. The Boys on the Bus covers the Nixon and McGovern race of 1972. Now we are in 2008 and the Obama/McCain race. Never before has technology played such a big part in a campaign.

Yet, we have to remember that television was brand new technology accessible only to some in 1948. And since it’s infancy at that point of campaigning, television, and then the Internet created a huge impact on how people view a campaign, and how a campaign is run—both by the press and the candidates.

In terms of the differences between the press in 1948 and 1972, one of the biggest changes in how the press approached a campaign was the introduction of “pack journalism”. When you have a whole group of reporters relying on one another for the lead, everybody is going to be saying the same thing. The public will only hear some of what is going on. The story will be the same from everyone.

In 1948, the press (reporters and radio commentators, mostly: as opposed to today’s network talking heads), would make forecasts regarding the campaign and give individual opinions about the campaign. The idea, too, that a newspaper could print the wrong election result is kind of mind boggling when you think about it today.

I feel that it is also important to think about the shifting mentality of manners that occurred between 1948 and 1972. The press in 1972 was more of a hardcore, boozing, gambling bunch. Picture Hunter S. on the campaign trail. There were a lot of folks similar to him and that impacted what got done as well.

As far as the candidates’ handling of a campaign, Truman and Dewey were still bringing their campaigns to the voters, on the whistle-stop train tours. Truman especially was quite adept at speaking to the issues to the people who came out to support him on his train tours. Fast forward to 1972 and all of a sudden, TV was bringing campaigns to the voters. So now, suddenly, the candidates had an image to present. Or better put, their staffs had an image to present, and more importantly, control. Every word could be captured and transmitted so much more easily and quickly with technical advances. A good handler was necessary to ensure that the candidates said it the right way, and looked right.

So those changes brings us to the present. Nobody rides a train anymore. The press pool flies along on airplanes with the candidates, and a video can be uploaded to the Internet within seconds. What will the press do next to cover campaigns? Will the candidates have more and more “handling” to do? I suspect yes. It’s already happened and will continue to happen.


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