According to Neilson, 96.7 percent of American homes have televisions. Given the extensive coverage of presidential compaigns, it logically follows that most Americans are exposed to political media coverage. It is surmised that television reaches more voters than any other medium. How does this affect the outcome of the elections?
To fully understand this, many factors must be explored.
The influence of campaign managers
First, political campaigns are very sophisticated entities. The campaign managers have studied statistics, explored avenues of communication and are responsible for getting a candidate's message out to the most people possible. They are aware of television's impact and the vast number of voters that it affects. They spend a large part of the campaign funding on television ads. They study the many accounts of how television has impacted voters in the past and use that information to craft the candidate's image to his or her best advantage.
The power of television
One example of television's power is the election of 1960. This was the first time that Americans could watch the presidential debate on television. Some 70 million people saw a tired looking Richard Nixon who refused to use the makeup offered and had not gained back to his normal weight after a serious knee injury.
In contrast, John Kennedy had a tan from campaigning in California and appeared much younger and healthier. Although unofficial, it has been said that those listening to the debate on radio thought that the candidates were an even match, but those watching television believed that Kennedy was a clear winner.
Nixon's campaigning consultant said, "Television is no gimmick, and nobody will ever be elected to major office again without presenting themselves well on it."
Previous election procedures
Before television emerged, the election procedure was shorter than now. Candidates would campaign between the conventions and the election. Each party would send delegates from the primaries to the national convention. The party had full control without public input.
At the national convention, delegates voted for the candidate they wanted. The party conventions were first aired on television to give the public insight into how the parties made their decision. They did not expect it to change the way things were done, but as they began to play to the cameras things changed and it became more about a show rather than actual decision making.
Another major contribution of television is campaign ads. These aired throughout the day but especially during prime time, because they reach people who do not normally read about the campaign or follow the news on a regular basis. They catch viewers off guard. Statistics show that voters give more attention to ads to learn about the issues than other news sources.
Television is a candidate's chance to have direct contact with voters. Through the many appearances in ads, debates, and other features on television, people see the personal side of the candidate. A candidate is groomed and instructed on things ranging from their words to gestures to facial expressions to what to wear. Television uses all the tools of filmmaking to present the image the candidate's wishes, but many times viewers catch glimpses of the true personality of the person himself.
Television has a positive effect in that it clues the public in to the issues. It also has a negative effect, as it has to accept paid ads that often turn into mudslinging.
Whatever the effect of television, it will continue to be a main source of election issues and a factor in deciding the future president.