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Posters and Election Propaganda

A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters

Posted by Steven Seidman at 8:18PM   |  Add a comment
Billboard for "The Iron Lady" (MailOnline, 2012)

Margaret Thatcher—whose Conservative Party won elections three times between 1979 and 1987 when she led it—is the subject of a new movie, “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep. But the tough, imaginative campaigns that brought Thatcher to power were orchestrated by the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi and emphasized emotions and issues and did not focus much on Thatcher herself.

In 1979, high unemployment and inflation hurt the ruling Labour government. The billboards and posters, titled “Labour Isn’t Working,” created by the advertising firm illustrated the joblessness (see my past blog post). They featured a long, snakelike line of people at the unemployment office, and the caption “Britain’s Better Off With The Conservatives.” TV spots also did not mention Thatcher; rather they showed people trying to cope with high prices, unemployment, and taxes, and speaking positively about Conservative economic policies.

Thatcher and her party won again in 1983 and 1987. After the British victory over Argentina in the Falklands War, and with improved economic conditions, the Conservatives won decisively over Labour (as shown in the film). Saatchi & Saatchi’s campaign for the Conservatives, in 1983, featured a poster that compared the Labour Party’s policies to those expressed in the Communist Manifesto. The poster’s headline read “Like Your Manifesto, Comrade.”

In contrast to U.S. elections, it was clear that British voters put less emphasis on the leader of the party. In a 1987 exit poll, voters were asked to indicate “the most important reason which decided their vote,” and only 6 percent replied that it was the party’s leader. It is not surprising, therefore, that British posters in the 1980s often excluded Thatcher and the opposing leaders (while U.S. posters showed Reagan, Bush, Carter, and Mondale).

More often than not, British election propaganda campaigns have emphasized issues more than the leaders, even popular ones. Party leaders, however, have appeared on posters more frequently in the past two decades. And, ironically, Thatcher has appeared a number of times on opposition posters and billboards—sometimes with only her hairdo on a Conservative Party leader (see an example above).

For more on election posters in British campaigns, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 10:10PM   |  Add a comment
"Union Labor Party" (1888, Library of Congress)

In the coming 2012 U.S. presidential election, it is likely that several minor political parties will run candidates. The Libertarian Party will probably nominate Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, as its candidate, and Americans Elect, may have Buddy Roemer, a former governor of Louisiana, heading its ticket.

Minor parties have been around for a long time in the United States. And they have sometimes had an impact on elections and policies.

In this blog post, I'll focus on the two minor parties in the 1888 election and one in 1892. They all issued interesting posters, too.

1888:

The Prohibition Party, which had been established in 1869 to pressure state legislatures to ban “the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages,” had done poorly in four prior presidential elections, getting less than 1.5 percent of the popular votes in each of them. It did a little better in 1888, with its ticket, headed by Temperance leader Clinton Fisk, receiving 2.2 percent. One of its posters illustrated the party’s moralistic principles in a unique way, suggesting that prohibition would lead to a better, religious America (an insane asylum, grave, and distilleries are seen in the foreground; a church and Sunday school in the background). Although the Prohibition Party did not gain many votes nationally, it did influence state party platforms, and eventually helped encourage support for the Twenty-first Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

The Union Labor Party was formed in 1888, and got only 1.3 percent of the popular vote, doing best in states with few industrial areas, most notably Kansas (11.4 percent), Texas (8.2 percent), and Arkansas (6.8 percent). Its platform attempted to appeal to both American farmers and laborers by opposing land monopoly and calling for a limitation on land ownership, nationalization of communication and transportation systems, the free coinage of silver, equal pay for men and women (as well as demanding women’s suffrage), a service pension bill, a graduated income tax, the direct election of U. S. senators, strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the importation of foreign workers, and the passage of specific legislation to prohibit immigrants from China. The poster for the Union Labor ticket (shown above), headed by Alson Streeter, was beautifully done by the Chicago firm of Kurz & Allison, and obviously targeted laborers and farmers—showing them, their implements, and featuring the slogan, "The Product of Labor Belongs to the Producer."  

1892:

The People’s (or Populist) Party (established in 1891) did quite well. It made many of the same proposals that had been in the Union Labor Party’s platform in the previous election, and issued conventional posters (with symbols of workers and the slogan "Equal Rights to All; Special Privileges to None"), but its ticket, led by James Weaver, was more successful in delivering its message, getting 8.5 percent of the popular vote (and 5 percent of the electoral vote), probably due to the increased economic difficulties of many farmers. Its fiery platform charged that governmental policies had “bred” “two great classes—tramps and millionaires,” with “the fruits of the toil of millions…badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few….” In 1896, the Populists nominated the Democratic Party's candidate, William Jennings Bryan (who espoused many of their principles).

 

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 9:44AM   |  Add a comment
"Windsurfing" (Bush-Cheney '04)


In 2004, the George W. Bush campaign produced one of the most devastating attack ads ever run. The "Windsurfing" ad was a 30-second spot that depicted Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as a "flip-flopping, windsurfing elitist," who changed his positions to try to increase his support from voters. Kerry was shown windsurfing to the left and right, to symbolize his supposedly changing stances on the war in Iraq, and funding for troops, educational reform, and medicare premiums. These and other ads might have made the difference in President Bush's narrow margin of victory, which was 3 percent in the popular vote and 6 percent in the Electoral College. Click on this link to view the "Windsurfing" ad:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbdzMLk9wHQ

Now, in 2011, the Democratic National Committee has already run a similar 30-second spot ad, directed against a candidate who has not even been nominated yet (and may not be): Republican Mitt Romney. The "Trapped" ad pits "Mitt vs. Mitt" on abortion and health reform, stating that Romney (like Kerry) is "willing to say anything" to get elected. Click on this link to view the "Trapped" ad: http://www.youtube.com/user/DemocraticVideo#p/u/0/CUOM9QvhG5I

Such attacks can be effective, since they can get voters to question the "character" of candidates.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 7:30PM   |  Add a comment
Tsai Facebook Page Photograph


Piggy banks, posters, billboards, videos, and Facebook groups are all propaganda vehicles in Taiwan, which will hold its presidential and legislative elections on January 14, 2012. 

This week, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen decried her party's lack of funds, comparing its plight in the campaign to "a piglet fighting against a huge monster." That "monster" is the ruling Kuomintang Party (KMT), which toppled the DDP from power in the 2008 elections. Next to Tsai, while she spoke, was a giant piggy bank, and supporters threw money on the stage on which she was giving her speech.  

The DPP is selling plastic piggy banks to raise funds, and purchasers stuff money into them and send them back to party headquarters. In addition, a "piggy assembly" is scheduled to be held in December, at which more "stuffed piggies" will be returned. The goal is to sell and collect at least 10,000 piggy banks, according to an article posted on the Asia One News Web site. Another article—in the Taipei Times—stated that the party wanted to distribute 100,000!

President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT is running for re-election. Also in the race is James Soong of the People First Party (PFP), who may draw votes away from the KMT candidate, giving the presidency to the DPP. A recent poll indicated that the race would be close, with Ma holding a 3.7-point lead over Tsai.

The posters and billboards for these candidates—and those running for seats in the legislature—are sometimes big and brash, using some interesting visual- and verbal-exaggeration techniques. These include puns, loud color, startling facial expressions, and unusual props and poses—such as a stethoscope, a bicycle, and a ping pong paddle, as well as a runner about to begin his race. But a 3 minute and 20 second video-ad for Tsai has gentle music and shows her happily riding a bicycle. For a good selection of posters and billboards already up in this year's campaign, see Michael Turton's blog, The View from Taiwan.

For more on the history of election campaigns in Taiwan and the posters, billboards, and other media used, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History

 

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 3:15PM   |  Add a comment
Roosevelt and Johnson Poster (1912)

Next year's election campaign in the United States promises to be a wild one, with an incumbent president fighting increasingly longer odds on his reelection, given the terrible state of the economy. The campaign promises to be one in which both issues and personalities are prominent.

One hundred years earlier, another incumbent U.S. president, William Howard Taft, fought to retain power. And although issues (conservation, tariffs, rights of workers, and governmental reform) were important, the dynamic personality of former president Theodore Roosevelt loomed large (compared to the dull Taft). Taft's campaign was crippled by a split in his Republican Party, with Roosevelt leading the progressive wing of the party (and running under the banner of the Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party) against the conservatives, who supported Taft for the nomination. Robert La Follette, who had defeated Taft in two of the first four primaries, did not support either Taft or Roosevelt. Woodrow Wilson led a united Democratic Party to victory. Although Roosevelt’s popular and electoral vote totals surpassed those of Taft, Wilson’s margin over the former president in the popular vote was a substantial 14.5 percent.

In 1912, political campaigns did not use any of the media that emerged later in the twentieth century. Political campaigning did not change fundamentally until the medium of radio altered strategies in the mid-1920s, although campaign speeches had surpassed parades and rallies in importance around the turn of the century. Posters, banners, and billboards, however, continued to be a significant vehicle for political operatives. In 1912, the New Jersey Roosevelt Republican League issued a report on its primary campaign to defeat President Taft for the party’s nomination, stating, “Banners are swung across the streets in every city and town of importance, extolling the candidates. Billboards are plastered with huge posters eulogizing President Taft. Campaign pictures of ‘Teddy’ [Roosevelt] and Taft look out from windows everywhere.” Moreover, many lithographic posters were produced, and these were quite colorful, with backgrounds in bright hues for greater impact.

The election of 1912 was a watershed of sorts for U.S. campaign posters. Gone were the cornucopias and most of the patriotic symbols (such as eagles and flags) that had been used since the 1840s. Instead, Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party seized upon the symbol of the Bull Moose—which prompted the party’s nickname—to symbolize the strength of the candidate and his third-party movement. Its symbol was included on some of the posters, cloth banners, buttons, pennants, handkerchiefs, postcards, and other campaign promotions. Since three candidates were essentially “progressive,” personality qualities and symbols were really more important than issues. Slogans were also an essential ingredient: Roosevelt stumped the country calling for a “New Nationalism”; Wilson delivered campaign speeches for a “New Freedom”; and Taft generally stayed in the White House, with his banners proclaiming “Better be safe than sorry.”

A series of photographic portraits of all the major candidates were issued with neither their names nor the names of their parties—another change for printed election propaganda. Other posters did contain some of this information, but one for the Progressive ticket of Roosevelt and Senator Hiram Johnson of California included only the last names of the two candidates, their full-length photographic portraits, and the final lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Ballad of the East and West” (See the figure to the right). Roosevelt’s image had come a long way since the last time he ran: in 1904, stuffed “teddy bears” were distributed, which related Roosevelt to both a huggable toy and “family values”; in 1912, he was associated more with the bull moose, with verses from Kipling fortifying the impression of strength. The Taft campaign used the party’s symbol of the elephant—which had been around for several decades, along with the Democratic donkey—on many campaign items, including a poster that displayed portraits of Taft and his running mate, Vice President James Sherman, on the animal’s blanket. Undoubtedly, with Roosevelt’s breakaway movement so powerful, it was important for the Taft strategists to emphasize party symbolism and loyalty.

For more on the election of 1912, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.


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