Political Communication in the 2004 Presidential Campaign

Television’s role in American presidential politics is significant; sixty percent of the American people identify television as their sole source of news. Thus, a presidential candidate must do his best to appear favorably in the media. Some scholars have suggested that this involves the creation of an “image” which appeals to the electorate, even to the extent of creating the appearance of a “reality” unsupported by known facts. However, we also suggest that the televisual images generated by the presidential campaign satisfy more that the candidate’s political aspirations, but they also fulfill a social demand for reality’s production. Furthermore, we find that difficulties determining an image’s meaning suggest that its appeal to the electorate is based more on sentiment than its ability to construct a comprehensive, consistent representation of reality. In this paper, the focus will be on the presidential debates and television commercial of the 2004 Presidential election. In order to compare the present with the past, the 2000 presidential election will be used to see tactics. How do the presidents portray themselves? How do the people see the presidents?

Many voters feel they have a good reason to search the media coverage for information about candidates’ personalities. A candidate with a lot of personal charm, who can win the trust and respect of peers and reporters, may have an advantage in a bridging party and issue divisions in Washington. The issues faced by the government can change, and probably will. All presidents’ deal with crises and decisions they did not anticipate. When that happens, presidents are not bound by their pre-election promises, their parties’ platforms, or the commitments of their co-partisans in Congress、but their personal qualities, however – intelligence, likeability and persistence – is more enduring and can be valuable in managing the extraordinary demands of the presidency. Many of the Presidential Commercials aired on television, focuses on mainly 5 topics; Biographical, Children, Commander in Chief, Documentary, Fear, Real people, and Backfire. The issues portrayed in these commercials are as follows; Civil Rights, Corruption, Cost of Living, Taxes, War, and Welfare (West, Darrel M.) The 2004 election will focus on these themes while observing the television advertisements. In the debate sections, how and why the winner won, will be discussed.

Bush won because September 11 has truly changed America and because he accurately reflected America’s resolve that the war on terror has to be won. Not waged. Won. Voters concluded that while Kerry could adequately manage a terrorist attack, it was Bush who was more likely to prevent one. Two key campaign events enhanced Bush’s role as America’s defender and Kerry as weak and indecisive. The first was the swift boat ads. Kerry’s convention performance was effective enough to change a few minds. But the blizzard of TV ads unleashed by the group of Vietnam veterans blanketed the airwaves in swing states and undid whatever benefit the convention provided. True, the swift boat veterans never fully convinced voters that Kerry “betrayed” his country in wartime, but they did raise nagging and unresolved doubts about Kerry’s character and judgment at the very moment that voters had begun to make up their minds. The second key event was the Republican convention itself. Undecided voters swung to Bush because of a powerfully delivered convention speech that was the right balance of domestic agenda and national security, and because he effectively communicated that he was truly a man on an unyielding mission. They heard a president who heard them, understood their concerns, addressed their fears, and made them feel safer and more secure in their homes and in their country. The president stormed out of New York with a double-digit lead that helped him survive the first debate and sustained him through Election Day. It also helped that he had the best one-two consulting punch of this era in Karl Rove and Karen Hughes by his side.

Some will claim that Bush won on Tuesday because he waged a campaign of fear. The exact opposite was the case. Americans turned to him precisely because they saw him as the antidote to that fear. Polling over the past few months and the results on Election Day itself illustrated an essential principle of electoral success: It is no longer enough to say no. Voters need someone who will say yes. Kerry became a symbol for voters opposed to the president’s policies and procedures, but not much else. Conversely, Bush became the vehicle for those who wanted an affirmative, proactive, preventative approach to homeland security. Americans will tell you that it was Bush, and not Kerry, who offered the hope that personal security could be restored. And in this election, hope seemed to be the winner.

When it came to the war on terror, Americans knew where their president stood and exactly what he believed. They simply did not share the same level of confidence in Senator Kerry. The events and aftermath of September 11 may not have changed everything, but they certainly changed the outcome of the 2004 presidential race.