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Posters and Election Propaganda

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

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 4:18PM   |  3 comments
Malachi Cleary as Warren G. Harding on "Boardwalk Empire"

Warren G. Harding, the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the United States in 1920, is portrayed by actor Malachi Cleary in the HBO television series, "Boardwalk Empire." In fact, the title of the finale of the show's first season, "A Return to Normalcy," was one of Harding's campaign slogans. And a large Harding poster can be seen in the background during the Republican National Convention scene (as David Ettlin—a reader of this blog—points out). Harding, a silver-haired, adulterous, corrupt minor senator from Ohio, secured his party's nomination at the convention, with the help of several party bosses in a "smoke-filled room." On the TV show, Harding's campaign manager, Harry Daugherty is helped by “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi), who calls the candidate an "imbecile" while dealmaking to benefit both Harding and himself. "Nucky" also agrees to hide Harding's mistress, Nan Britton, in New Jersey during the presidential campaign. 

During the 1920 campaign, the Republicans spent an incredible amount of money to elect Harding (who won by the huge margin of 26 percentage points). It was reported in The New York Times that five million posters that included portraits of Harding and his vice-presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge, were printed, along with fifteen million buttons of Harding alone.

Although Daugherty was quite influential in the campaign, another figure, advertising executive Albert Lasker, loomed large. Lasker coordinated public relations and advertising, and posters and billboards were a fundamental part of the campaign. Lasker’s style of advertising, which often advocated the purchase of one product over another, worked very well in politics, with newspaper and billboard ads promoting politicians rather than products. It was a small leap for him to come up with another slogan for Harding, “Let’s be done with wiggle and wobble” (a reference to a Democratic policy that seemed first to have been isolationist, then interventionist), after concocting such slogans as “Keep that Schoolgirl Complexion” and “A Cow in Every Pantry” for products. Lasker’s slogan was seen on billboards across the country at a cost of four hundred thousand dollars (while the Democrats spent little on this medium)—and that was only 7.5 percent of the Republican National Committee’s total expenditures. The “wiggle and wobble” slogan strategy contrasted Lasker’s candidate with the outgoing president: Harding was depicted as a solid, steady leader with small-town values, who would return the country to “normalcy”; the outgoing Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, had promised to keep the country out of the Great War, and then had led it into the conflict.

The visual images that were sometimes fashioned for the posters and billboards in the Harding campaing were imposing: a good example is Howard Chandler Christy’s idealized rendition of Harding with the candidate dramatically raising one hand and appearing to hold an American flag with the other. There were only two words accompanying the image: “America First!” (yet another slogan). This was the same slogan that was used in the Wilson poster in the previous election campaign, and, amazingly, the slogan that was included in some Democratic posters in 1920.

To learn much more about the Harding campaign, see the book Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.

 

 

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 2:23PM   |  Add a comment
Swiss People's Party, "Creating Security," 2007

The 2008 U.S. Republican Party Platform supported border security and English as the official national language, and opposed any amnesty for illegal immigrants. These stands—emphasized by most GOP presidential candidates during the primary campaign and continuing into the general election, particularly by state and local candidates, hurt many Republicans who ran: For example, in 2004, an estimated 39 percent of Latinos voted for George W. Bush; in 2008, only 31 percent voted for John McCain. But at least the U.S. does not have a party whose main purpose is to oppose immigration and immigrants. In other parts of the world, such parties abound.

In France, the increase in the number of immigrants and Arabs with French citizenship helped resurrect Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party, the Front National (FN), which had received little support since Le Pen helped found it in 1972. By 1988, however, Le Pen garnered 14 percent of the vote in the presidential election. The message of protecting white French citizens against the waves of immigrants was summed up on a Le Pen poster with the slogan “Defend our colors.” In 1995, he achieved 15 percent, with a blatant anti-immigrant campaign, marked by an FN poster that stated, “Three million unemployed, that is three million immigrants too many!” Another FN poster included a silhouette of an airplane in front of the setting sun, with the slogan “When we come in … They go out!” And in 2002, Le Pen (with his slogan of “France and the French First”) received almost 17 percent, getting him into a runoff against Jacques Chirac (who defeated him soundly 82 percent to 18 percent). But in the latest French presidential election, last year, Le Pen's share of the vote was down to 10 percent.

Unfortunately, anti-immigrant appeals have been evident in other countries, too. A poster distributed by the Danish People’s Party during the 2001 election showed a young blond girl with the statement, “When she retires, Denmark will be a majority-Muslim nation.”  In the same campaign, Venstre (the Liberal Party) erected a billboard that showed three Asian men, who had been tried for group rape, leaving the court after having been acquitted, with the caption “this will not be tolerated once Venstre gets in.” In that election, Venstre won the most seats in the parliament (a gain of 34 percent) and the People’s Party came in third in seats (a 70-percent increase). The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) achieved even more than its Danish counterpart, winning the most votes in the parliamentary elections of 1999, 2003, and 2007, possibly helped by posters that depicted foreigners as criminals shredding the nation’s flag. In the last elections, the SVP achieved its best result (29 percent), despite (or because of) issuing a subsequently banned poster that depicted three white cartoon sheep kicking a black one off the Swiss flag, as well as the slogan “Creating security” (see the illustration to the right). Anti-immigrant poster campaigns by political parties have also been conducted recently in other European countries, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, and The Netherlands, as well as in New Zealand.


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