Fixin’ to Vote Nixon: President Nixon’s 1972 Success

by PHOENIX

President Nixon had several notable television campaigns that contributed to his re-election in 1972. Today I will be looking at the successful content of Nixon’s commercials, smear campaigns against Democratic candidate McGovern, the mistakes made in McGovern’s own advertisements, as well as the underlying historical context that affected the outcome of this election.

To begin, the Republican party produced a variety of commercials that portray Nixon as a kind, cultured, and hard-working man. Now, Nixon’s overall popularity had declined prior to his 1972 re-election campaign (Living Room Candidate). This could be due to factors like the ongoing Vietnam war which Nixon had previously promised to end, or his secretive visits to China and Russia. However, the Republican party cleverly depicts these ventures in a positive light.

The ad Nixon the Man, did Nixon’s brand an immense amount of good. Nixon had a reputation for being an incredibly private person; this ad affirms that few people do know about the details of his life which contributes to the notion that “those lower in political information [are] more influenced by ads” (Franz and Ridout). An ad such as this could easily persuade voters that Nixon had been misunderstood, and was truly a kind-hearted, cultured man. It also shows Nixon in euphoric settings, such as signing Happy Birthday, and dancing with his daughter on her wedding day. Altogether, this is a wholesome depiction of Nixon, and the ad also overtly depicts his relations with China, which works to clear up any misconceptions that people may have. As for his unfulfilled promise to end the Vietnam War, there was another commercial that addressed that issue (Campbell). In the ad Mamie, former first -lady Mamie Eisenhower can be seen endorsing President Nixon, and implying that there hasn’t been many results due to the fact that four years is not enough for a president. This speaks profoundly to Republican audiences since Eisenhower was also Republican. Moreover,  Mamie can be seen as a calm, elegant, elderly woman. In this scene, she epitomizes grace and charm. She is wearing pearls and soft-coloured dress that is indicative of a soft, grandmother-like femininity. She cheers “so let’s all get behind Mr. Nixon” before the screen switches to a scene of a roaring crowd chanting “Four more years!” This undoubtedly signifies that Nixon has a strong following that consists of political figures and average American citizens. It effectively establishes a connection between Nixon, other political presences, and his audience.

The Republicans also produced several successful smear campaigns for Nixon in 1972. The majority of these ads target all of the drastic, rash changes that the Democratic opponent, McGovern, was proposing. In fact, the subject of these attacks was McGovern’s affinity to change, like in the ad Turnaround. Turnaround highlights some of the contradictions McGovern made, while visually illustrating it by flipping a picture of McGovern’s profile. This emphasizes how McGovern’s contradictions were polar opposites. At the end of the ad, the speaker clearly emphasizes the potential for danger with a volatile leader by announcing “This year. Last year. What about next year?”, before transitioning to a still that reads “Democrats for Nixon.” This phrase makes it seem like it is perfectly fine to be a Democrat and still support Nixon, it naturalizes the political change by making the switch seem like the obvious decision. Unlike Nixon, McGovern waited until later in his campaign to begin mudslinging. Nixon released more attack ads than McGovern. One of McGovern’s ads, Tanya, contains a black background and white text, and criticizes Nixon’s concern for a Russian orphan named Tanya, by juxtaposing the casualties in Russia to those in South Vietnam. The ad Tanya ends with the text “McGovern” in bold, white lettering. Now, the rhetoric in this ad is much stronger than his opponent’s attack ads. Nixon’s ads ask the viewers biased questions, which are almost certain to evoke some sort of opinion from spectators. Meanwhile, McGovern’s attack ads have no strong audience engagement. They do not try to elicit a change in the viewer, instead they present a narrative. The Republicans achieved such successful attack campaigns due to their tenacity, aggression, and by calling their audience to action.

McGovern’s television advertisements generally seem to lack focus, and do not always depict the candidate favourably. For instance, in the McGovern ad “Change”, the idea of being “for the people” is emphasize; however, fourteen seconds into the ad you can hear a foreign voice about to chime in, only to be cut off by McGovern saying “let me just add one thing” while panning towards the face of a listener. This makes it seem as though McGovern did not actually listen to Americans. In fact, it makes him appear ignorant of his peoples’ opinions and viewpoints. Many of McGovern’s other ads also seem to lack a clear call to action. When campaigning, it is essential to focus on the audience and to motivate them to perform some sort of action. In essence, strong persuasion techniques worked in Nixon’s favour during his 1972 re-election campaign. Meanwhile, McGovern fell victim to effective attacks from the Republicans, and his own advertisements were unable to propel him to success due to weak and unclear ads.

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Campbell, Joseph W. Nixon’s mythical ‘secret plan’ invoked as putdown. Media Myth Alert. October 17th 2014. Accessed on February 5th 2015, from: https://mediamythalert.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/nixons-mythical-secret-plan-invoked-as-putdown-in-conn-gubernatorial-race/

Franz, Michael M., and Ridout, Travis N. Does political advertising persuade? Accessed February 5th 2015, from: https://learn.uwaterloo.ca/d2l/le/content/186045/fullscreen/1119398/View

The Living Room Candidate. 1972 Nixon vs. McGovern. 2012. Accessed on February 5th 2015, from: http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1972