Since 1952, television has played a major role in presidential elections. Television allows candidates to reach a broad number of people, and personalities, to help push along their campaigns. Campaigns help the candidates just as much as the voters. The candidates get to be identified, and known to the voters, and the voters get to hear and see how a specific candidate identifies with their needs and wants. The best way to get this information out there is through the most used form of media, television.
“One of the great contributions expected of television lay in its presumed capacity to inform and stimulate the political interests of the American electorate. ” (Campbell). The general public also has the opportunity to be more informed about the quality of the job performance of the candidates already in office and what is going on in the world around them. Debates are regularly viewed by millions of Americans along with advertisements. More people have a tendency to vote because they feel more informed about the people they are voting for. Several more reasons account for the preeminence of television advertising in politics.
First, television spots and their content are under the direct control of the candidate and his/her campaign. Second, the spots can reach a much wider audience than other standard forms of electoral communication. Third, the spots, because they occur in the middle of other programming fare, have been shown to overcome partisan selectivity (e. g. , the spots are generally seen by all voters, not just those whose political party is the same as that of the candidate). Finally, research has shown that voters actually learn more (particularly about issues) from political spots than they do from television news or television debates.
The use of television advertising in political campaigns has often been criticized for “lowering the level” of political discourse. Observers bemoan that television fosters drama and visual imagery, leading to a concentration on candidate images, “horserace” journalism (who’s winning, who’s losing, opinion poll results), and campaign strategy than on issue concerns. The presidential race between Kennedy and Nixon is a perfect example. The televised debates were viewed as important, perhaps decisive, in Kennedy’s victory. Kennedy’s success has often been attributed to his impressive appearance on television in these debates.
(Mendand). However, scholarly research has shown that television spots for campaigns at all levels are much more likely to concentrate on issues than on images. The extensive reliance on television for campaign communication has also been blamed by many observers for the rise of negative campaigning. Scholars and journalists alike have noted that more and more political campaigns rely on negative television spots to attack opponents. The news also plays a major role in the coverage of the presidential candidate selection process before the national party conventions.
By covering and scrutinizing candidates in state primaries and caucuses, television coverage can help determine which candidates are perceived by the electorate as viable and which might be dismissed as unlikely to succeed. This ability to give and withhold attention has been seen by many as making television’s role in the political process a very decisive one, since a candidate who does not do well in early primaries faces not only an uphill battle in subsequent contests but may have difficulty raising funds to continue at all. Overall politics have been affected greatly by the development of television.
Not only has it affected the ability of humans to voice their opinions and needs about political issues more freely, but it has also given politicians the opportunity to make themselves known by and heard by more voters. Such accessibility though may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Because of the need to weed through false images and accusations to find the actual opinions and goals of political candidates, people are often found to be mistaken because candidates are “losing their distinctiveness as social actors and hence are often judges by standards formerly used to assess rock singers and movie stars. ” (Hart).