About this blog
A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters
Monday, October 31, 2011
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.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
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.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Mitt Romney's campaign has now borrowed from the British Conservative Party's very successful campaign that brought Margaret Thatcher and her party to power in 1979. Romney's Website features an "Obama Isn't Working" banner that is almost identical to a British poster used more than thirty years ago.
The 1979 campaign in Great Britain was marked by the aggressive and innovative advertising campaign for the Conservatives devised by Saatchi & Saatchi, and its “Labour Isn’t Working” poster was the key element. The firm’s Tim Bell (whom Thatcher later knighted for his efforts) was given the account and he decided to emphasize emotions, not issues, which would appeal to voters—an approach that was hardly new.
In 1979, high inflation, strikes, unemployment, declining market shares in many industries, monetary devaluation, and skyrocketing oil prices plagued the Labour government. In fact, many of the same problems beset U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the end of the decade. As a result (and with effective political marketing specialists aiding the conservatives in the two countries), both Carter and Labour lost power to Reagan and Thatcher. The faltering British economy and the Tories’ advertising strategy clearly convinced many voters to side with Thatcher’s party, which increased its share of the vote from 36 percent in the previous election to almost 44 percent (while Labour’s share declined from 39 percent to 37 percent).
As Maurice Saatchi said years later, "in great advertising, as in great art, simplicity is all … [with] simple themes, simple messages, simple visual images."
As both U.S. parties have acknowledged, jobs and the economy are the dominant issues in the 2012 campaign. And imagery—even if borrowed—may play a role in determining the election outcome.
For more on the 1978-1979 election campaign in Great Britain, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Mitt Romney is trying to win the Republican nomination this year—as he did in 2008. He is following in the footsteps of his father, George, who attempted to win the GOP nomination in 1968.
George Romney, like his son, was a governor (of Michigan, rather than Massachusetts, which Mitt governed). George's main opponents for the '68 nomination were Richard Nixon (formerly vice president), Nelson Rockefeller (governor of New York), and Ronald Reagan (governor of California).
In his November 18, 1967 announcement, George said, "I have given my life to the poetry of decisions and work" and stressed the need for leadership and his "concern" about America. Many campaigns have stressed this—before and since. But he went further, talking about "aimlessness and flabbiness" in society, citing "obsolete welfare policies," inflation, and rising crime, drug, and alcoholism rates. He added that "the richest nation in the world is in a fiscal mess." His slogan: "For a Better America!" (for the entire announcement speech, see 4president.org)
Now that sounds familiar! His son, Mitt, now says: "The mission to restore America begins with getting our fiscal house in order. President Obama has put our nation on an unsustainable course. Spending is out of control. Yearly deficits are massive. And unless we curb Washington’s appetite for spending, the national debt will grow to the size of our entire economy this year." His slogan: "Believe in America." (see mittromney.com)
Unfortunately for George Romney, his campaign to become the Republican nominee, and then president, was destroyed by his admission to a reporter that he had been "brainwashed" by the military and diplomats into supporting the Vietnam War, which he then turned against, in terms of the U.S. intervening. His support evaporated and he withdrew as a candidate at the end of February, 1968. Subsequently, Nixon easily won both his party's nomination and the presidency later that year.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
The 1864 U.S. presidential election campaign—which was held the year after Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg—was an important one. As was the case in 1860, the North was divided. Judging by the dominant themes in campaign broadsides, this time the conflict was about the emancipation of the slaves, the prosecution of the Civil War, and the way to deal with the Confederate states. Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection, but doubted that he could win again, due to high casualties and military defeats. His opponent was the man whom he had removed as the general-in-chief during the war, George McClellan.
Lincoln was the candidate of the National Union Party, formed by pro-Lincoln Republicans and War Democrats, with the very effective slogan, "Don't change horses in the middle of a stream." McClellan positioned himself as a moderate who could end the war, with Lincoln depicted as too "extreme," since the president was for emancipation of the slaves in the South. The Currier & Ives print on the right shows McClellan calling for the preservation of the Union, while grabbing both Lincoln (saying "No peace without Abolition!") and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with frayed pants (saying "No peace without Separation!").
One huge problem for McClellan, however, was that he had to run against his party's platform, which called for a "cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States" to restore the Union. McClellan wanted to continue the war, but Lincoln's campaign focussed on the danger of the Confederate States of America becoming an independent country, if the Democrats won.
Many states allowed Union soldiers to vote, and it was estimated that Lincoln won almost 80% of that segment. Three new states (West Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas) voted for the first time, and Lincoln won all three. Although McClellan won 45% of the popular vote, he was crushed in the Electoral College, winning only Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He almost won New York though—losing by less than 7,000 votes—when many immigrants were naturalized before the election and with fraud occurring in New York City. More than 70,000 soldiers from the state cast absentee ballots, which put Lincoln over the top.
McClellan’s cause was somewhat damaged by his party’s platform and his battlefield record, but his defeat has been attributed mainly to the Union capture of Atlanta two months before the election. The importance of the election of 1864 was obvious to Lincoln—he believed that the Democratic Party platform would lead to a McClellan administration negotiating an armistice, followed by the permanent breakup of the United States of America. Instead, Lincoln won reelection on a platform demanding that an amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery be passed, and that the war would be pursued until the South was defeated and the Union preserved.