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The evolution of U.S. Presidential campaigns can be analyzed through the technology available to the candidates. From this perspective, it can be understood how ordinary citizens have perceived the candidates based on the type of information that they were able to receive. The comparative analysis of the 1860, 1960, and 2008 Presidential Elections revealed the importance of technology in conveying the campaign message and persuading voters to choose one candidate over the other. The Lincoln-era campaign was characterized by the emergence of mass media, while the Kennedy and Obama campaigns were characterized by the application of advanced technologies such as TV broadcasting and social media platforms.
Analysis from the Point of View of Citizens
The United States citizens circa 1860 relied on two types of technology to satisfy the need for information regarding their presidential candidates. First, they relied heavily on the telegraph when it came to the acquisition of information coming from faraway towns and cities, especially information describing events that had transpired beyond state borders. The second technology was the printing press, specifically newspaper publications. Some of the notable newspaper publications in 1860 were The New York Times, New York Tribune, and The New York Evening Post.
Ordinary citizens gleaned information regarding the 1860 campaign through the newspapers, the telegraphs, and face-to-face encounters with the candidates. Public speaking was delivered in the traditional manner, which was the use of key stops along major railway systems. People flocked to these impromptu gatherings, and they were delighted by the display of oratorical skills from the candidates.
In the case of the 1960 presidential campaign, American citizens had varied options when it came to satisfying their thirst for information. The 1960 presidential campaign was hailed by some historians as the first modern campaign because it was the first time in the U.S. history wherein presidential candidates were able to engage in the nationally televised debates (Donaldson, 2007). At the same time, the mass media, called radio broadcasting, was at its peak. In addition, national newspapers and local dailies were in greater circulation than ever before. It was a stark contrast to the slow dissemination of information during the Lincoln era. In the 1960s, people were flooded with information from different angles.
The 2008 presidential campaign was similar to the 1960 presidential campaign with one major difference. The significant difference between the two eras was the presence of social media. When Obama won the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he came at an opportune time in the history of Information Technology because his supporters had access to social media platforms that radically altered the way people communicate to each other. The role of the citizens was different in the 2008 presidential election compared to their counterparts in the previous two eras. In 2008, they were not only recipients of news information; they were also sources of information. At the same time, they interacted with each other. In the previous two eras, people relied on what news agencies told them about the campaign. In the 2008 election, people could inquire from one another regarding events. A good example was the use of Twitter. This micro-blogging platform enabled people to comment on speeches made as well as other pertinent information about key events.
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In the 1860 presidential election, the political party’s platform and the core message of the presidential candidates were disseminated everywhere through newspapers, speeches, and word-of-mouth communication styles. It was a slow process. In the 21st century, people are well aware of the limitations of newspapers. Reporters gather information about newsworthy events, and then, they return to their offices or homes to write the story that they want to convey to the reading public. The editor and the publisher double-check the content of the articles or news items, and then, they send it to the printers. The printers take time to layout the news and proceed to print the news on paper. The fresh copy of the news will not be available until the early hours of the morning on the following day. This was exacerbated by the limitations created by other factors, such as slow transportation and the absence of computers that could have expedited the process.
With regard to the contest between Kennedy and Nixon, the campaign was characterized by the use of a relatively new medium. The candidates were able to showcase their leadership qualities and their speechmaking skills through the use of a mass medium that enabled people to see their facial expressions and their immediate reactions to questions and provocations thrown at them. The TV coverage of the campaign was an important facet of the presidential contest. However, Kennedy and Nixon also utilized radio and newspaper publications to get their message across. The same thing can be said about the 2008 presidential elections; however, a significant amount of information were transmitted and shared using other forms of communication platforms. For example, Obama used social media to reach out to the younger generation of voters. His message about hope and change reverberated to the hearts and minds of young supporters.
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Proclamation of Victories
Election Day for the 1860 Presidential elections was held on the February 6, 1860. Abraham Lincoln was proclaimed president elect on February 11, 1860 (Boller, 2004). It took several days after the casting of votes before the public knew who had won the election. Aside from those who were close to the process of tallying votes, outsiders had little access to information with regard to the national outcome of the election.
In the case of the 1960 presidential campaign, Election Day was scheduled on November 8, 1960. After the voters went to the polling precincts, the counting of ballots commenced. In the wee hours of the morning on the following day, Nixon seemed to have given a concession speech. Nevertheless, the election was too close to call. It was not until the afternoon of November 9, 1960 that the public knew with finality the outcome of the election.
In the case of the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Election Day was scheduled on November 4, 2008. It can be argued that in this point in the U.S. history, the American electorate had experienced several cycles of the presidential elections. People were more experienced, and the institutions assigned to these tasks had already established effective and efficient systems that were used to monitor and track the result of the elections. Before the 10 PM mark, major TV networks were already making assured predictions that Obama was the winner. Before midnight, all the major TV networks of America declared Obama the winner. It did not take long before the Republican candidate Senator McCain conceded the presidency to Obama.
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Strengths and Weaknesses
The strength of the Lincoln-era election was manifested in the ability of the voters to get up close and personal. The candidates were forced to socialize with ordinary people because they had limited means of communicating their parties’ respective platforms (Boller, 2004). For those who attended the campaign rallies and the impromptu speeches at the railways stations and other public areas, they were able to gauge the capabilities of the candidates. In other words, mass media played no role in creating a larger than life persona for the candidates. They were flesh and blood ordinary mortals, trying to convince their fellow citizens that they had what it takes to lead the country. The weakness of the Lincoln-era campaign mechanisms was the inability to disseminate information at a faster rate. Lincoln was clearly the best candidate; however, he won with the slightest of margins. If the TV were available back then, the voters would have appreciated the wisdom and the charisma of Lincoln.
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The strength of the 1960 election campaign was manifested through the power of the TV set to bring the candidate to the homes of ordinary people. In the past, the voters would have to live near urban centers or they would need to travel a considerable distance to see the face of the candidates and judge them based on their facial expressions and overall demeanor. During the Kennedy and Nixon debates, people saw them as who they were without the filter of the newspapers (Donaldson, 2007). The opinion of the editors and the journalists still mattered; however, the TV enabled the voters to judge for themselves who was the better man in the contest. The weakness of the modern communication platforms was its tendency to create myths or larger than life personas of the candidates. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy was the more media-savvy of the two candidates. He was able to use the TV coverage of the campaign to his advantage. Nixon looked haggard and ill-prepared to challenge Kennedy in the national debates that were covered by TV networks (Donaldson, 2007). However, Nixon was the more experienced politician. Without the TV, Kennedy would have been defeated
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The 2008 presidential campaign was characterized by the game changing impact of social media. The strength of the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter was manifested in their ability to create a different type of organization. In the case of the Obama campaign, he was able to get the support from small donors through the tight coordination afforded to him by social media (De Sio, 2014). In addition, social media eliminated the barriers that prevented ordinary citizens from getting a better look at their candidates. More importantly, it enabled candidates to reach out to the younger generation of Americans.
The 1869 Presidential campaign saw the emergence of the newspaper as the primary mechanism for information dissemination. It was a slow process and created numerous barriers for many American citizens. It was a stark contrast to the 1960 Presidential Campaign when the public saw the power of the television to bring the candidates to their homes, so-to-speak. TV game them easy access to the candidates; however, mass media also had negative side, which was the power to create hype. The 2008 Presidential Campaign used the same technology with one game changing addition, which was the presence of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Social media increased access to the candidates. More importantly, not only did the voters receive information, but also they were able to interact with each other and make commentaries on the news, a capability that would have made Abraham Lincoln smile.