How Technology Has Affected US Presidential Elections


By Robert Rose Frische

The recent race to the White House has been the hot topic of conversation, and not just in America. People from all over the world have been gripped by the battle between the current president and his rival for the top job in US politics, Mitt Romney. Although both candidates spent a great deal of time travelling around the US, giving speeches to their voters, it is the internet that has acted as the means of communication to the American (and World) audience. We decided to look at how it was used for the most recent election and how improvements in technology have influenced presidential campaigns in the past.
1924: Davis vs Coolidge
President Harding first introduced the idea of speaking to the public on the radio in 1921 but it was not until the 1924 presidential election that it was really utilised. By this time millions of Americans had receiving sets in their living rooms and they were all expecting to hear what the candidates had to say. Such a huge importance was placed on this new technology that Coolidge and Davis were actually made to sit in a glass booth on-stage, in-front of 16,000 people, and told to avoid their usual pacing back and forth, to ensure that the microphone would pick up everything they said.
Across the country schools were closed so that students could listen and people huddled around radios in department stores and at home. Sales of receiving sets hit a record high and 'Nation' magazine printed that "1924 would be looked back on as the radio year". For the first time the American voters were able to listen in on a presidential election, thanks to this new technology.
1960: Nixon vs Kennedy
The first ever televised presidential debate was broadcast on Sep 26th 1960 and it was an event that changed the face of US politics forever. At that time Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator that had the odds stacked against him. The debate lasted one hour and by the end of it the majority of those who listened in on the radio were confident of Nixon's victory. However, the 88% of Americans who watched it on TV were witness to a completely different picture - one of Nixon looking frail and weak from a recent operation, as well as sweating and looking very nervous. In contrast, Kennedy looked calm, confident and strong and there was no doubt that, for those who had seen it with their own eyes, he had won. Kennedy would later reference the importance of this technology by saying "it was the TV more than anything else that turned the tide.
2012: Obama vs Romney
The photograph of President Obama hugging his wife has become the most re-tweeted post in the history of Twitter and this is a fitting nod to the huge part that this website has had to play in the recent US Election. The fact that it was posted before Obama even took to the stage to thank his supporters in person illustrates how important this social media platform was to his campaign. At one point on the election night, users tweeted at a rate of 327,452 per minute.
Facebook was also used to its full potential by both candidates with the fan pages and member-to-member communications as well as more original and exciting ideas such as an 'I Voted' button at the top of news feeds, that is responsible for an estimated third of a million extra people voting alone.

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