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Every four years, the citizens of America migrate to their respective polling locations and cast their vote. On this important day, the second Tuesday of November, the next President of the United States is elected. Thosen to lead the country is by proxy the leader of the free world; the election of the United States President is a deeply historical event. The actual decision, though, does not come as easily as one would think. Yes, people sometimes vote blindly along party lines, but there is a whole host of variables that can influence a voter's decision, and, largely, the outcome of an entire election. Such variables include the issues at hand, party preferences, polling results and the media's coverage. While these criteria are ever-important influences in any election, there are a select few races in which they became more important than ever. Three elections in particular come to mind the elections of 1948, 1960 and 2004. All of these elections were close and in many ways demonstrate the intricacies and interrelationships of elements of a Presidential election.
One such important race was the race of 1948 Thomas E. Dewey against Harry S. Truman. Top polling organizations and media luminaries were united in their prediction of Dewey's certain victory. Life Magazine even put Dewey on their cover with a headline that declared him "The Next President of the United States." Harry Truman was apparently the only man convinced that he would win; "everyone else was certain Dewey would be elected" ("Truman Surprise"). Truman, the incumbent candidate, was suffering in the polls with a weak 36% approval rate. He was leading a nation fearful of taxes and Communism. His presidential campaign was faring no better. At the Democratic Convention (the first ever televised), the entire Mississippi delegation and half of the Alabama delegation walked out during his speech.
Soon after The New York Times reported that the "Democratiuspected that the media's coverage wasn't conducive to truthful reporting. The nadir of his campaign occurred when he gave a speech on national television that, due to lack of funds, was cut short. It was at this point that the election seemed to be permanently in Dewey's hands.
Thomas E. Dewey, however, was no shining star, either. Described by many as "the only man they knew who could strut sitting down," ("Truman Surprise") Dewey led a lazy campaign that relied too heavily on poll results. He also was the victim of several crucial faux pas, the most notable occurring during a speech on the back of a train. When a train accidentally backed up, Dewey exclaimed that the engineer "should probably be shot at sunrise, but we'll let him off this time " Truman turned this blunder around to his advantage, praising train engineers and exclaiming "[engineers] are all Democrats. [Dewey] doesn't mention that under that great engineer, Hoover, we backed up into the worst depression in history." This wound up being a crucial point for Harry Truman
Eventu Dewey's 45.1%. Finally, at the end of it all, Harry S. Truman "fought the media, the commentators, and everyone else, and won the election" ("Truman Surprise"). He got the last laugh; he held up an erroneous copy of a newspaper that declared Dewey the winner. In the end, many milestones occurred during this election. Notably, it was the first televised convention. It also required the pollsters and news organizations to check their methods.
A similar series of events happened during the election of 1960. During a time of much civil upheaval, two candidates emerged. Richard M. Nixon, the Republican from California, stressed an anti-Communism stance, his hardworking, poor roots and the inexperience of his opponent, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, a wealthy, Harvard-educated Catholic, s USSR's surging economy and the importance of foreign policy. Nixon spoke of a "brighter future" and Kennedy boasted a "new frontier." These close similarities "forced the campaigns to seek out other differences".
Like the 1948 election, several faux-pas plagued the Republican camp. Eisenhower, under whom Nixon was Vice-President at the time, accidentally slighted Nixon. He was asked what major decisions Nixon had helped influence. In attempt to curtail a press conference, Eisenhower replied "if you give me a week, I might think of one" ("Road to Camelot"). Though not intended to harm Nixon at all, this hurt the election.
The media played a huge role in this election. The 1960 Presidential debate, aside from being the first ever televised, was a deciding factor. Nixon, who was weary from campaigning and a knee injury, looked haggard and old in front of the camera. This was exacerbated by the fact that he refused to wear makeup and that his suit blended in with the backdrop. Kennedy, however, owned the camera. This brought up an interesting result; "When the debate ended, a large majority of television viewers recogniates that, although not necessarily a better rhetorician, Kennedy used his young image to win the hearts of viewers. In the end, Kennedy's young image had an incredible influence on the outcome of the election. Kennedy won by a mere fraction of a percentage (49.7% - 49.5%) one of the closest races in history. His victory demonstrated the vast importance of televised debates, and has since influenced every subsequent election.
Without a doubt, the election of 2000 demonstrates the deepest importance of all three of the listed criteria; issues, party preference, polls and the media. The election focused on Republican George W. Bush, Governor of Texas and Vice President & Democrat Al Gore. Though Bush criticized the Clinton Administration's handling of Somalia, the most divisive issues were moral issues. "Already by 1992, Republicans were much more concerned than Democrats or independents about the alleged moral decay of society, in the form of permissive attitudes toward sex, abortion, gays and lesbians, and secularism" ("Election 2000"). Gore swerved away from this topic, as not to incite anger over Clinton's moral misbehavior. Meanwhile, Governor Bush promised to restore "moral integrity."
It was a 50-50 split in the polls all the way until election night. After two false claims of victory made by the news media, it was decided that Florida was the key state in this election. Then came the recount debacle. Bush and Gore both demanded that every vote be counted in Florida. But, thanks to the news mediaved more votes than Bush nationwide" ("Election 2000").This became only the third time in all of American history that a candidate lost the popular vote but won the election itself. In the wake of this election, the accountability of electronic voting machines has come under close scrutiny. This debate over electronic voting was "[spurred by] the Election of 2000m, but it did not end it." Though the debate still hangs in the air (and resurfaces during major elections), the media clearly played a huge role in this election.
Every four years a Presidential Election rolls around. Each year, a new element comes into play. In 1948, it was the televised Convention; in 1960, it was the televised debate. In 2000, it was the mass hysteria over the closeness of the vote and the failure of voting machines. The issues change, the parties change, the media forms change (blogs will surely play a huge role in 2008), but, as factors, they have always been (and will continue to be) driving forces in all our Presidential Elections. It will be interesting to see how the interplay of these factors influences voters, who ultimate determine the victor in 2008.
1. "1948: The Great Truman Surprise." The Press and the Presidency. Kennesaw State University. 2 Jan 2007
2. "1960: The Road to Camelot." The Press and the Presidency. Kennesaw State University. 2 Jan 2007
3. "Election of 1948." US History.com. US History. 8 Jan 2007 .
4. "United States presidential election, 2000." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Jan 2007,
00:15 UTC. Wikimedia Foundati, Inc. 9 Jan 2007 .