This time I’m looking at political advertising in the 1976 Presidential campaign. The professor sent us all to the Living Room CandidateÂ site to watch Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford’s ads and do an analysis of them.
Jimmy Carterâ€™s Advertisements
Carterâ€™s first ad (â€œEssenceâ€) is a sort of teaser trailer. Like teasers in a movie theater, it doesnâ€™t tell you what Carter is about, it just announces that heâ€™s Jimmy Carter and running for President. The visual consists entirely of encounters between Jimmy Carter and men on the street as he campaigns. The audio narrative makes clear that Carterâ€™s campaign will be based on his being a Washington outsider; the advertisement ends with the tagline Carter will use throughout: â€œA leader, for a change.â€
Carterâ€™s second ad is the â€œBioâ€ you expect. At over 4 minutes the spot gives plenty of time for Carter to emphasize that heâ€™s a good guy, a real Southerner, and a leader of the people. This is one of only three ads that donâ€™t end with â€œA leader, for a change.â€
Carterâ€™s advertisements continue with â€œSecrecy,â€ about how special interests have too much influence in Washington and we need a â€œsunshine lawâ€ to make sure decisions are made for the people; and â€œSouthâ€ emphasizing Carterâ€™s southern roots and populism. â€œRoseâ€ is a 62-second spot highlighting Carterâ€™s wife (the titular Rose) discussing the things sheâ€™s heard from people while campaigning. This is the second spot that doesnâ€™t end â€œA leader, for a changeâ€; the final line is Rose saying she thinks that â€œJimmy will be a great President.â€ Presumably the â€œa leader, for a changeâ€ line was just too jarring a transition from Roseâ€™s warm, pretty voice and image; it detracted from the goal of emphasizing Carterâ€™s family image.
â€œWelfareâ€ follows, in which Carter emphasizes the number of jobless in the country and suggests a plan to help them, without becoming beholden to them. â€œLeaderâ€ features Carter talking about how government should behave â€” there is, of course, nothing controversial here, just the usual words: â€œefficient,â€ â€œopenâ€, â€œfor the people.â€
Carterâ€™s last ad, â€œReality,â€ deserves a very special place. A 60-second spot, it features Jimmy Carter talking about the â€œrealâ€ state of the economy, and contrasting it with what â€œthe Republicans are saying.â€ It is the one and only attack ad that Carter airs during the entire campaign. It also ends differently than all the other ads. Walter Mondaleâ€™s name has been added to the closing screen, and rather than a voice booming â€œA leader, for a changeâ€ it closes in silence after Carter has finished.
Gerald Fordâ€™s Advertisements
Ford opens his campaign a little differently than Carter. Everybody knows Ford, so his first advertisement is â€œLeadershipâ€, essentially a biography of Fordâ€™s time as President. The ad opens and closes with Ford giving a rousing speech to cheering spectators and emphasizes a number of points: we are better off than before Ford; he makes government what we want (reigning in the Congress!); he has restored honor to the White House and created a non-imperial Presidency (deliberately distancing himself from Nixon); he listens to other points of view and is open to persuasion â€” a black man gets 30 seconds discussing busing and how he disagrees with Ford on it, but Ford always listens to him and heâ€™s â€œnot sure [Ford] isnâ€™t right.â€
â€œBiographyâ€ is, for Ford, just a 30-second spot ending â€œGerald Ford has always been best when the going is toughest. Letâ€™s keep him in charge.â€ The 62-second â€œMan on the Streetâ€ features a varied collection of people explaining theyâ€™re usually Democrats, but theyâ€™re voting for Ford. One is â€œembarrassedâ€ by Carter; itâ€™s a mild attack ad. â€œChildren/Achievementsâ€ is also a minute-long ad; it features a group of children asking Ford what his biggest achievement is; Ford replies that he has healed America. It ends â€œA kind and decent man whoâ€™s making us proud again.â€
â€œMan on the Streetâ€ is a collection of diverse voters who all claim to be democrats voting for Ford; one says he is â€œembarrassedâ€ by Carter. â€œChildren/Achievementsâ€ tries to paint Ford as a friendly man by picturing him with a group of smiling children; one asks what Fordâ€™s biggest achievement is and he replies that he has healed America.
The next two ads are attack ads on Carter. â€œStrom Thurmondâ€ brings forward the southern lion to argue that Carter will not be a friend to the South; it claims that he has promised to sign away state rights so the northern union bosses will support him. This ad serves as both a character attack and directly counters Carterâ€™s â€œSouth.â€ â€œCriswellâ€ features the Reverend Criswell telling a story about Ford in which Ford refuses to give Playboy an interview, and ends with a voiceover: â€œPresident Ford. Heâ€™s the kind of man we should keep in the White House.â€ The ad is as strange as it sounds, but came as a direct response to an interview that Carter did give to Playboy. The interview generated a great deal of outrage, not just for its publisher, but because of Carterâ€™s controversial remarks, including that he had â€œcommitted adultery in my heart.â€ This interview and the responses to it were largely responsible for Carter losing his (very large) post-convention bump.
Fordâ€™s last three ads become increasingly upbeat. â€œWorkersâ€ is a contrast ad in which Ford says he wants to cut taxes for the working class while Carter wants to raise them. It sends a mixed message, though, as it opens with a worker describing how his wife had to get a second job to make ends meet â€” this is not a positive retrospective like the rest of Fordâ€™s campaign is! â€œPearl Baileyâ€ features the famous (black) singer/actress endorsing Gerald Ford, in a continuing attempt to convince Carterâ€™s democratic base that Ford is a leader they can trust. And â€œPeaceâ€ is just what it sounds like: a 62-second spot highlighting how much peace Ford has given the nation, not just in the world but in terms of contentment at home.
The political advertisements during the 1976 Presidential election illustrate the basic trends described in the book. Carter ran a generally positive campaign introducing himself while subtly reminding people of Nixon (and his association with Ford). Ford ran a campaign painting himself as an established leader and trying to undermine Carterâ€™s character.
Jimmy Carterâ€™s ads were carefully designed to portray him as a populist with plans. Five of his nine ads are exclusively Carter talking directly to either the viewer or a â€œcommon man;â€ a few are taken from a speech but most are interview-style. 2 of the ads propose specific policies; they all have a domestic focus â€” there is no attempt to engage foreign policy at any level (with the notable exception of â€œReality,â€ which mentions foreign energy and Americaâ€™s place in the world in passing). Carterâ€™s very last ad, â€œReality,â€ is an attack ad, and it deliberately turns retrospective. Carter attacks the Republican portrayal of the country as economically healthy and generally happier than in the past, and concludes that â€œ[fixing] itâ€™s a long, tough job; itâ€™s time we got started.â€
Gerald Fordâ€™s ads worked hardest at two main goals: distancing Ford from Nixon as much as possible, painting Ford as an established leader we can trust, and attacking Carterâ€™s character. Nixon is never mentioned by name and all references to his presidency are negative in tone. There are references throughout Fordâ€™s ads to the new direction he has taken the country: healing America, creating a â€œnon-imperial presidency,â€ and improving the economy. Four of Fordâ€™s nine ads attack Carter at his base (in an attempt to define Carter negatively), but the end of the campaign becomes steadily more upbeat; the last ad is literally a jingle about peace (in every sense of the word). Fordâ€™s ads also have a much stronger foreign policy focus, intended to remind voters that Ford had managed to warm relations with Russia and China (ironically, by following Nixonâ€™s foreign policy).