The American presidency has always been a type of elective kingship, our connection to a more civilized time. Americans have historically given the president the same admiration and loyalty as subjects would to a benevolent ruler. This is why character and image are so important in all presidential campaigns. Americans expect their president to uphold the ideal of a model American as well as cater to their every policy preference. A national media, targeted campaign ads, and a decline in parties influence have strengthened this ideal and have made a candidates persona crucial to winning the White House. Many other strategies are involved in winning the Presidency, but image and momentum are becoming the primary avenues into Washington.
The selling of the president has become an art form with social science and engineering mixed in. Political consultants and negative television bombard the American people each year and tell their version of why good Americans should vote for one candidate and not the other. Consultants are hired in light of the decline in the peoples party affiliations and their need for a personable candidate. These consultants use polls in conjunction with social psychology to shape a message that the American public will listen to. However, the system was not always this way (Newman, 118)
In the early days of our country, the political parties took up the burden of advertising their candidate.Simple tactics such as intimidation and threats worked well but they also used the partys broad appeal to rope in many other voters and consolidate their own base. The candidates image was important in the realm of notoriety, the better known among the general populace the better. In most cases the average person was not voting for the candidate but rather the political ideology he represented. This ideology became a reflection of his character.
The parties also handled the promotion of their candidate by utilizing a bevy of marketing techniques. For example, in 1824 the Democrats used everything from sticks made from hickory to campaign songs in order to promote Andrew Old Hickory Jackson and his legendary reputation (OShaughnessy, 20). The parties promoted many candidates in a similar manner throughout the years; William Henry Harrison used a slogan, Henry Clay had a mascot Raccoon, and even Lincoln used photographic prints of himself. All these methods would have been ineffectual if the parties were not backing or were not strong enough to promote effectively. This has been proven by the historical lack of third party successes.
The mood of the nation shifted slowly, shying away from the old party ties to the candidates themselves. People wanted leadership and a hero to follow, they got that in Teddy Roosevelt. TR was a powerful president and spectacular leader. He gave the American public a modern hero to revere and use as their compass regarding matters of wisdom and courage. This is shown in his ability to garner 24% of the vote in the 1912 election splitting the Republican Party in two and allowing the Democrats to gain control of the White House. This was the beginning of image centered voting, whether the people or the candidates knew it or not.
The next step in this process comes from Franklin Roosevelt, who helped the image voting process but also brought on a new surge of party loyalty for the Democrats and Republicans. The Great Depression that brought about Roosevelts reforms strengthened poorer and smaller sections of the country. Because these destitute areas received increased aid and support the people were loyal not only to the Democratic Party for life but also to Roosevelt himself, a key to his 4 trips to the White House. Here one sees the incredible phenomenon embodied by the term yellow dog democrat, meaning a person who would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican. The partys propaganda machines began at this point to slow down and candidates came forward into the limelight.
Candidates such as Eisenhower increased this voting pattern exponentially. With a slogan I Like Ike and an enormous recognition from World War Two, Eisenhower won two elections with little to no challenge. His use of campaign strategy and tactics set the stage for future presidential hopefuls. The