It’s November 7, 2016, presidential election eve. This is the 18th presidential election since my birth. And, looking back over the histories of campaigns and presidencies, we can see that the winning political parties will be split 50/50 if a Democrat wins this election. So, I spent all day today culling over various facts and citations to pull together a synopsis. So, I hope you enjoy reflecting back on them to see if life, politics, politicians, and the media’s involvement with them have really dramatically changed. And, I apologize in advance for the length of this post–probably my longest post to date, but writing this one actually brought me some focus and a small amount of satisfaction before Election Day when we’re expected to muster up enough strength and sanity to endure one more day of this craziness, before taking that leap of faith into our future for these next four years.
The 1948 Campaign
The 1948 presidential election was a great political revolution in American history in its day. These are some of the words used to describe this memorable U.S. presidential election in which the Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman defeated the Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey: “the 1948 miracle,” “the biggest political upset in American history,” “a victory by an underdog who everyone said had no chance to win”, “one of the three most significant American elections of the twentieth century.” Indeed, the Chief Executive, who during his campaign made a famous whistle-stop tour of the country aboard a special train, outpolled his main opponent by over two million votes. This electoral contest was the closest presidential election since 1916, Truman receiving 49.5 % of the popular vote as compared to 45.1% for New York’s Governor Dewey. In the electoral college, Truman’s margin was 303-189, with 39 votes going to third-party candidate J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (the second longest seated Senator in Congress [November 7, 1956 – January 3, 2003: 48 years]). Truman’s triumph astonished the American nation, to say the least, since most pollsters and influential newspapers had picked Dewey as the winner. In fact, the Chicago Tribune’s banner headline of November 3, 1948 on its front page read: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
The 42nd quadrennial presidential election was held on Tuesday, November 4, 1952. One of the more famous quotes during the campaign made by Adlai Stevenson: “I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”
Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was the landslide winner, ending a string of Democratic wins that stretched back to 1932. During this time, Cold War tension between the United States and the Soviet Union was at a high level, as was fear of communism in the US, epitomized by the campaign of McCarthyism. Foreign policy was a main issue in the race for the Republican nomination. The stalemated Korean War polarized our nation and implied corruption in the federal government was a major issue, too. The economy was prosperous, so economic and social issues played little roles in the campaign.
Eisenhower was popular, although his health had become a quiet issue and he largely ignored the subject of civil rights. Our country was thriving and enjoying peace – Eisenhower ended the Korean War – and supporters acknowledged his charismatic presence.
A few firsts:
- The 44th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 8, 1960, was one of the closest elections in American history and the first election where, regardless of the winner, the United States would have a leader who was born in the 20th century.
- This was the first presidential election in which voters in Alaska and Hawaii were able to participate, as both had become states in 1959.
- It also was the first election where the Twenty-second Amendment was enforced, making all former presidents who had held two terms as President ineligible for re-election.
The Republican insider was Richard Nixon of California, who had served as Vice-President for eight years under Dwight Eisenhower. JOHN F. KENNEDY, a senator from Massachusetts, was the Democratic newcomer who at the age of 43 became the youngest person ever to be elected President.
Kennedy as young, a newcomer, and a Roman Catholic and no Catholic had ever been elected President before. (AL SMITH, a Catholic, suffered a crushing defeat to HERBERT HOOVER in 1928.) This raised serious questions about the electability of a Catholic candidate, particularly in the Bible Belt South. Questions were raised about Kennedy’s ability to place national interests above the wishes of his Pope.
Courage and character became the major themes of Kennedy’s campaign once the press reported stories about Kennedy’s World War II heroism. While he was serving in the South Pacific aboard the PT109, a Japanese destroyer rammed his ship and snapped it in two. Kennedy rescued several of his crewmates from certain death. Then he swam from island to island until he found a group of friendly natives who delivered a distress message that Kennedy had carved into a coconut to an American naval base.
John F. Kennedy won the popular vote by a slim margin of approximately 100,000 votes. Richard Nixon won more individual states than Kennedy, but it was Kennedy who prevailed by winning key states with many electoral votes.
And then there was that horrific day, November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX, by Lee Harvey Oswald, and his then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, assuming his role as President of the United States. Watch former President Truman’s reaction when interviewed about this news:
Democratic candidate and incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson had come to office less than a year earlier following the assassination of his predecessor John F. Kennedy. Johnson’s campaign advocated a series of anti-poverty programs collectively known as the Great Society, and successfully portrayed Goldwater as being a dangerous extremist. He also had successfully associated himself with Kennedy’s popularity, and won 61.1% of the popular vote, the highest win by a candidate since James Monroe‘s re-election in 1820. Johnson easily won the Presidency, carrying 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
1968 was another election year that we could label as “tumultuous”. It was marked by the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., subsequent race riots across the nation, the assassination of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and widespread opposition to the Vietnam War across university campuses. Incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, had declined to seek election amid growing discontent over the Vietnam War and his worse-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was a scene of violent confrontations between police and anti-war protesters as Democrats split into multiple factions. But even my wildest memories and comparisons of 1968 to 2016 still put this year’s politicians characters, lack of knowledge, introspection, honesty, coherency, integrity, decency, compassion, and sensitivities at the bottom of barrel–and I say this knowing the memories that are yet to come in this post!
Nixon won this election in a landslide over George McGovern by emphasizing a good economy and his successes in nearing the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War and establishing relations with China. Overall, Nixon won 60.7% of the popular vote, the fourth largest in presidential election history. Nixon garnered 18 million more popular votes than McGovern–the widest margin of any United States presidential election.
This election term stands out among others because Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, former Governor of Maryland, resigned less than a year after the election over allegations that he had accepted bribes as Governor; Agnew was replaced by Gerald Ford under the terms of the 25th Amendment; and, Nixon would resign due to the Watergate Scandal in August 1974. Ultimately, this term included two different presidents and three different vice presidents!
President Nixon resigned in 1974 in the wake of the infamous Watergate scandal and his Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in light of a scandal that implicated him in receiving illegal bribes as Governor of Maryland. Using authorization from the 25th Amendment of 1967, Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as his successor. Gerald Ford then became the only sitting President who had never been elected to a national office. But Ford inherited a legacy of a poor economy, the fall of South Vietnam, and paid a heavy political price for his pardon of Nixon. Like the 2016 election, Ford first faced serious opposition from within his own party, when he was challenged for the Republican Party’s nomination by former California governor and future President Ronald Reagan. The race was so close that Ford was unable to secure the nomination until the Party Convention.
Democrat Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, was less well known, ran as a Washington outsider and reformer. He narrowly won the election, becoming the first president elected from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1848.
The 1980 election was considered by some to debate a dramatic change in the government’s influence and authority over the people and economy, reaching a climate of confrontation practically not seen since 1932. One of Ronald Reagan’s more famous quotes of the day:
Supporters of Republican Ronald Reagan, former Hollywood Actor and now Governor of California, praised him for running a campaign of upbeat optimism.
Carter emphasized his record as a peacemaker, and said Reagan’s election would threaten civil rights and social programs that stretched back to the New Deal. Reagan’s platform also emphasized the importance of peace, as well as a prepared self-defense.
Carter’s supporters defended the president as a decent, well-intentioned man being unfairly criticized for problems that had been building for years.
His critics saw him as an inept leader who had failed to solve the worsening economic problems at home. And, following a failed rescue attempt, Jimmy Carter was overwhelmingly blamed for the Iran hostage crisis where 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981) by a group of Muslim Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. These Ayatollah Khomeini followers burned American flags, chanted anti-American slogans, paraded captured American hostages in public, and burned effigies of Carter.
David Frum, political commentator claimed that Jimmy Carter ran an attack-based campaign revolving around “despair and pessimism,” and this is what “cost him the election.” (Any of this sound familiar?)
Mondale ran a liberal campaign, supporting a nuclear freeze and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He spoke against what he considered to be unfairness in Reagan’s economic policies and the need to reduce federal budget deficits.
The Reagan campaign was very skilled at producing effective television advertising. Two of the more memorable ads it produced were commonly known as “Bear in the woods” and “Morning in America”.
Deemed by experts as highly effective, the first video is a legendary Cold War political advertisement from Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. Pretty basic metaphor the bear is The Soviets.
The next acclaimed video is “Morning in America,” where Reagan narrates about the positive changes in America under his leadership as President. (If only the 2016 political ads had not been R or X rated, but, instead were produced for all audiences and about American’s real issues like these 32 year old videos!)
Reagan was re-elected in the November 6 election in an electoral and popular vote landslide, winning 49 states. Mondale’s defeat was also the worst for any Democratic Party candidate in American history in the Electoral College (and his 13 electoral votes the fewest any Democrat has won since Stephen A. Douglas claimed 12 in the 1860 election, when the Democratic vote was divided).
This election marked the third consecutive presidential victory for the Republican Party, and the first time that a party had won more than two consecutive presidential elections since the Democrats won all five elections from 1932 to 1948. Bush was the first sitting Vice President to be elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836, and the first successor to be elected from the same party since Herbert Hoover in 1928.
Running an aggressive campaign, Bush capitalized on a good economy and Reagan’s popularity. Meanwhile, Dukakis’ campaign suffered from several miscues, including failure to defend against Bush’s attacks. This allowed Bush to win with a substantial margin of the popular vote, while winning the Electoral College by a landslide. Since the 1988 election, no candidate has managed to equal or surpass Bush’s number of electoral votes won or popular vote percentage.
During the course of the campaign, Dukakis fired his deputy field director Donna Brazile after she spread rumors that Bush had an affair with his assistant Jennifer Fitzgerald. The relationship of George H.W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald would be briefly rehashed during the 1992 campaign.
Dukakis was badly hurt by the Republican “Willie Horton”, “Revolving Door”, and “Boston Harbor” campaign ads, the latter of which attacked the governor’s failure to clean up environmental pollution in the harbor. Dukakis was a supporter of a state prison furlough program, which had begun before he was governor. The program resulted in the release of convicted murderer Willie Horton, who then committed a rape and assault in Maryland. As Governor, Dukakis had vetoed a 1976 plan to bar inmates convicted of first-degree murder from the furlough program. The program was abolished by the state legislature in April 1988 after public outcry over the Willie Horton case.
A number of false rumors about Dukakis were reported in the media, including the claim by Idaho Republican Senator Steve Symms that Dukakis’s wife Kitty had burned an American flag to protest the Vietnam War, as well as the claim that Dukakis himself had been treated for a mental illness. (I had forgotten about some of these events–sometimes brain cramps can be small blessings in disguise!)
After the successful performance by U.S. and coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings were 89%. His re-election was considered very likely. As a result, several high-profile candidates refused to seek the Democratic nomination.
The public’s concern about the federal budget deficit and fears of professional politicians allowed the independent candidacy of billionaire Texan Ross Perot to explode on the scene in dramatic fashion—at one point Perot was leading the major party candidates in the polls. Perot crusaded against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), internal and external national debt, tapping into voters’ potential fear of the deficit.
But as the economy continued to grow sour and the President’s approval rating continued to slide, the Democrats began to rally around their nominee, Bill Clinton.
Many character issues also were raised during this campaign, including allegations that Clinton had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, and had used marijuana, which Clinton claimed he had pretended to smoke, but “didn’t inhale.” Bush also accused Clinton of meeting with communists on a trip to Russia he took as a student. Clinton was often accused of being a philanderer by political opponents.
Allegations were also made that Bill Clinton had engaged in a long-term extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers. Clinton denied ever having an affair with Flowers. (Still sounding familiar and perhaps some copycatting going on?)
Initially, President Clinton’s chances of winning were considered slim in the middle of his term as his party had lost both the House and the Senate in 1994 for the first time in decades; he had reneged on promises to cut taxes and to reduce the deficit, enacted a Federal assault weapons ban, and had a failed healthcare reform initiative. He was able to regain ground as the economy began to recover from the early 1990s recession with a relatively stable world stage. He went on to win re-election with a substantial margin in the popular vote and electoral college. Despite Dole’s defeat, the Republican Party was able to maintain a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Dole chose to focus on Clinton as being “part of the spoiled baby boomer generation” and stating, “My generation won World War II, and we may need to be called to service one last time.” Although his message won appeal with older voters, surveys found that his age was widely held as a liability and his frequent allusions to WWII and the Great Depression in speeches and campaign ads “unappealing” to younger voters. To prove that he was still healthy and active, Dole released all of his medical records to the public and published photographs of himself running on a treadmill. After the falling incident off a stage in California, he joked that he “was trying to do that new Democratic dance, the Macarena“.
The Clinton campaign avoided mentioning Dole’s age directly, instead choosing to confront it in more subtle ways with the campaign slogan “Building Bridges to the Future” in contrast to the Republican candidate’s frequent remarks that he was a “bridge to the past”, before the social upheavals of the 1960s. Clinton, without actually calling Dole “old”, questioned the age of his ideas.
Foreign policy was often an issue, although overall this presidential campaign focused mainly on domestic issues, like the projected budget surplus, proposed reforms of Social Security and Medicare, health care, and competing plans for tax relief.
Bush criticized the Clinton administration policies in Somalia, where 18 Americans died in 1993 trying to sort out warring factions, and in the Balkans, where United States peacekeeping troops performed a variety of functions. “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” Bush also pledged to bridge partisan gaps in the nation’s capital, claiming the atmosphere in Washington stood in the way of progress on necessary reforms.
Gore, meanwhile, questioned Bush’s fitness for the job, pointing to gaffes made by Bush in interviews and speeches and suggesting the Texas governor lacked the necessary experience to be president.
Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the sex scandal that led up to it, cast a shadow on the campaign, particularly on his vice president’s run to replace him. Republicans strongly denounced the Clinton scandals, particularly Bush, who made his repeated promise to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House.
Gore studiously avoided the Clinton scandals. In fact, some media observers theorized that Gore actually chose Lieberman in an attempt to separate himself from Clinton’s past misdeeds, and help blunt the GOP’s attempts to link him to his boss. Others pointed to the passionate kiss Gore gave his wife during the Democratic Convention, as a signal that despite the allegations against Clinton, Gore himself was a faithful husband. Gore avoided appearing with Clinton, who was shunted to low visibility appearances only in areas where he was popular. Experts have argued that this cost Gore votes from some of Clinton’s core supporters.
Bush focused his campaign on national security, presenting himself as a decisive leader and contrasted Kerry as a “flip-flopper.” This strategy was designed to convey to American voters the idea that Bush could be trusted to be tough on terrorism while Kerry would be “uncertain in the face of danger.” Bush (just as his father did with Dukakis in the 1988 election) also sought to portray Kerry as a “Massachusetts liberal,” who was out of touch with mainstream Americans. One of Kerry’s slogans was “Stronger at home, respected in the world.” This advanced the suggestion that Kerry would pay more attention to domestic concerns; it also encapsulated Kerry’s contention that Bush had alienated American allies by his foreign policy.
According to one exit poll, people who voted for Bush cited the issues of terrorism and traditional values as the most important factors in their decision. Kerry supporters cited the war in Iraq, the economy and jobs, and health care.
In March 2004, the Bush/Cheney campaign was criticized by 2004 Racism Watch. The organization took offense to a campaign ad, which showed a man who was possibly Middle Eastern in a negative light. 2004 Racism Watch issued a press release calling on the campaign to pull the ad, calling it “disturbing and offensive.”
Between August and September 2004, there was an intense focus on events that occurred in the late-1960s and early-1970s where Bush was accused of failing to fulfill his required service in the Texas Air National Guard. However, the focus quickly shifted to the conduct of CBS News after they aired a segment on 60 Minutes Wednesday, introducing what became known as the Killian documents. Serious doubts about the documents’ authenticity quickly emerged, leading CBS to appoint a review panel that eventually resulted in the firing of the news producer and other significant staffing changes.
On August 28, 2008, when Obama formally accepted the Democratic nomination for President, he became the first African American to be nominated for President by a major political party. The television audiences for both McCain’s and Obama’s acceptance speeches broke records, according to Nielsen ratings.
The unpopular war in Iraq was a key issue during the campaign before the economic crisis. John McCain supported the war while Barack Obama opposed it (Obama’s early and strong opposition to the war helped him stand out against the other Democratic candidates during the primaries, as well as stand out to a war-weary electorate during the general campaign). Though McCain meant it as a peacetime presence like the United States maintained in Germany and Japan after World War II, his statement that the United States could be in Iraq for as much as the next 50 to 100 years would prove costly. Obama used it against him as part of his strategy to tie him to the unpopular President Bush.
Obama promised “universal health care, full employment, a green America, and an America respected instead of feared by its enemies”.
Obama used new media to “form a bond with his supporters” which helped him “appeal to the youth audience’s need to feel special, in-the-know, empowered and special”. This was best displayed in his text message announcement of Joe Biden as the vice-presidential candidate. He has also declared, in his book The Audacity of Hope, that he did not experience a religious upbringing. Rather he developed his faith due to the church’s ability to motivate social change. The 2008 presidential election saw a large youth turn out, up to 51%.”
Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama created a broad popular movement and a new method of campaigning by courting and mobilizing activists, donations, and voters through the Internet. It was part of a campaign that mobilized grassroots workers in every state.
Polls taken in the last few months of the presidential campaign and exit polls conducted on Election Day showed the economy as the top concern for voters. In the fall of 2008, many news sources were reporting that the economy was suffering its most serious downturn since the Great Depression. During this period, John McCain’s election prospects fell with several politically costly comments about the economy. In fact, many pundits and analysts say that the actual financial crisis and economic conditions caused McCain’s large drop in support and severely damaged his campaign.
It was held on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Democratic nominee, incumbent President Barack Obama, and his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, were elected to a second term, easily defeating the Republican nominee, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and his running mate, Representative and eventual House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Foreign leaders reacted with both positive and mixed messages. Most world leaders congratulated and praised Barack Obama on his re-election victory. However, Venezuela and some other states had tempered reactions. Pakistan commented that Romney’s defeat had made Pakistan-United States relations safer. Stock markets fell noticeably after Obama’s re-election, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 each declining over two percent the day after the election. By his inauguration, however, the markets had gained back all the losses and a bull run began that culminated in 2015 when the Dow closed at an all-time high of 18,312, the NASDAQ reached the milestone of 5,210, and the S&P 500 peaked at a record 2,130.
I found the following chart to be very impressive. The blue highlighted cells show opinion polls in favor of Hillary Clinton as becoming president; those in pink (only Russia) show opinion polls in favor of Donald Trump. There’s not too much more to be said about this campaign. Americans have been stressed out enough already! Prayers to all of us.