Elect Us, Not Them: The History of Political Advertising Part 1

Leonard Steinhorn – American University

Part 1 of 2

Explore and enjoy the history of political advertising and how it influences us. This class looks at the origins of the 30-second spot — how it grew out of early television advertising — and then shows how candidates from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and all through Obama, Trump and Biden have used the medium to capture our attention and win our votes.

Prepare to like Ike, sing “High Hopes” with Sinatra, hear LBJ tell us “we must either love each other, or we must die,” watch the handiwork of Roger Ailes, wake up with “Morning In America,” identify with “The Man From Hope,” and see how candidate Barack Obama inspired the viral videos that now dominate our media ecosystem. We will explore the cultural values embedded in these ads, the role of celebrity in American politics, the way political consultants manipulate images, and the way negative advertising uses psychology, emotion, and visual cues to get into our heads. Professor Steinhorn’s class will combine American history, contemporary politics, and political psychology, and take you on a fun, nostalgic ride through the jingles and images that define our recent past.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Has political advertising been good or bad for our democracy?
  1. Do negative ads poison our politics? Or … do negative ads provide valuable information? Or … would you say that negative and positive ads are no different because they both use emotional and psychological techniques to manipulate us?
  1. If you watched hours of political ads, do you think you would get a realistic or distorted view of our country?
  1. Which ads from this lecture did you like the most? Which did you find most troubling?