The 1956 US Presidential election in was a similar contest to the former contest in the year 1952 and pitted Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat’s Adlai Stevenson. Republican’s Dwight Eisenhower beat Stevenson in a similar manner to the year 1952. This happened despite the intense speculation in the winter of the previous year the incumbent Dwight Eisenhower would not run owing to his failing health. His failing health emerged as a campaign issue in the electioneering period and was used by the opponents to fight him. The year 1956 was also the year that television commercials were used a great deal and had a major impact in the campaigns. Further, a number of campaign issues were discussed in the electioneering period which targeted at convincing the average voter. This paper examines the candidate’s personality in the presidential election of the year 1956, the campaign issues that were in this period with a special emphasis on the attempts to appeal to the average voter. To this end, the paper explores the campaign advertisements and commercials in this period and their attendant interesting features.
The 1956 presidential contest in the United States was similar to the 1956 contest in so far as the rivals were concerned. It featured the Republican’s incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower against the Democrats’ Adlai Stevenson. In the election run up, the incumbent president Dwight Eisenhower was diagnosed with coronary thrombosis, and there emerged speculation that he would not seek reelection. The health issue of Eisenhower emerged as a campaign issue and the opponents attacked Eisenhower as a part time president owing to this absence due to ill-health. Nonetheless, his announcement that doctors had given him a clean bill of health to continue discharging the duties of the presidency ended the speculation that he would not be in the race. The health issue of the President did not end at this. After passing well the physical examination on the 12th of May, he was attacked by ileitis causing him to undergo over a two hour operation. Given the two health scares on Eisenhower’s life as president, it became inevitable that his health would be a key campaign issue. Examining the personality of the candidates, it is the case that Republican’s Dwight Eisenhower was a skilled operator who inspired confidence. His immense popularity in the 1952 and 1956 elections was majorly as a result of his military leadership in the victory of the Allied forces in Europe. However, the enormous success that he managed especially in the 1956 election was as a result of his personality for he was not a politician, in the strict sense of the word. This is because he never engaged in political maneuvering that is characteristic of politicians nor did he engage in partisan issues. On the contrary, Eisenhower was gifted with superb talent that was able to win respect and affection of the voters. This feat was achieved by him owing to his ability to harmonize the various diverse groups and varying personalities into a cohesive function. He was able to transcend not only the people around him abut also the forces stacked against him through his bewitching smiling figure that grew an aura of success. His dimpled and exuberant grin and his quick anger which would quickly return to calm all created an affable personality. He was also armed with the power to command but preferred conciliation and diplomacy.
An interesting feature of the 1956 Presidential campaign was their heavy reliance on television commercials. The Ike-football television commercial by the Eisenhower campaign team sought to show that Democrat’s Stevenson had no extensive experience in the military as were Eisenhower. Owing to the lack of his military experience, the advert claimed, Stevenson was likely to lead the country into war yet again. However, Americans did not want to engage in another war and the Republicans capitalized on this claim. Towards the end of this commercial, the speaker appeals to the voters by telling them that they are responsible for taking the country out of Korea. The use of female Americans in the commercial was cleverly meant to winning the support of families that were involved in the Korean War. Further, there was a special focus on the female vote by the Republicans. There was a myriad of female focused advertisements as the female vote had been crucial in Eisenhower’s win in the 1952 elections. Some of the key campaign issues included inflation, the Soil Bank program, the support of prices for farm crops, federal aid to education, giving of credit to the Social Security Act amendments and the end to the Korean War. Whilst the Republicans, who were the incumbent argued that the cost of living had stabilized to a remarkable extent, their opponents, the Democrats argued that it was the highest ever in the history of America. The media also played a crucial part in the campaigns. The incumbent Eisenhower benefited most from this as over three-fifths of the newspapers in the United States at the time did offer their support to him while only a sixth supported Stevenson.
It may well be the case that Eisenhower was the officeholder in the run-up to the 1956 election. However, television commercials employed by his campaign team did not portray him as such, but rather portrayed him as any other ordinary American citizen and further focused on the Ike personality rather than his accomplishments.
More so, the Republican campaign team for Eisenhower came up with a television commercial that sought to dispel the claims by the Democrats that the Republican Party was only of the few Americans and that the Democrat party was one of the average Americans. In evidence, the television ads showed the testimony of ordinary citizens in a dramatized ad that featured a taxi driver and a dog popularly called “Taxi Driver and Dog” as well as a documentary titled ‘Women Voters’. It is also instructive that Eisenhower campaign team was well aware that it could not win by its supporters only and this was manifest in the commercials. Consequently, all the television ads in favor of Eisenhower ended with an appeal directed to all ‘thinking voters’ in full recognition that the Democrats as well as the Independents far outnumbered the Republicans that could propel Eisenhower to power. As such, the campaign team focused on ways of transcending party politics. When the Premier of the Soviet Union endorsed a proposal to put a ban to the testing of nuclear weapons, President Eisenhower denounced Democrat’s Stevenson for making sensitive statements on matters of national security in a partisan manner. The upshot of this is that the Republicans campaigned against Stevenson on the basis that in the event that he rose to power he would seek to appease the Soviets rather than stand up to them. The two foreign crises that occurred at the time namely the Suez Canal crisis and the Hungarian one, did widen the margin of victory for Eisenhower according to opinion polls. Many of the Americans rallied behind the president at that time of international danger after finding that Eisenhower’s firm and effective leadership could be relied on.
The running theme in most of the television commercials in favor of Eisenhower included the leadership potential of the Republican candidate as well as the close connection of Democrat’s Stevenson with the former President Harry Truman who was quite unpopular at the time. Indeed, the television ads were accompanied with a campaign slogan titled “It’s time for Change” that resonated better with the American electorate at the time given the standing of Harry Truman with the public. The Republican team also made use of the commercials popularly titled, “Eisenhower Answers America” which was a twenty-second ad, where Eisenhower appeared to speak directly to the citizens on virtually everything ranging from the cost of living up to the KoreanWar.
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