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Foreign policy-related U.S. presidential campaign ads ▶️

This Good Playlist offers highlights from television presidential campaign ads since the 1950s.

- January 2, 2024

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the first presidential political “spot ad” campaign: a series of 40 pithy responses to ordinary Americans entitled “Eisenhower Answers America.” His opponent, Adlai Stevenson, complained that Eisenhower was “selling the presidency like cereal…. How can you talk seriously about issues with one-minute spots?” Stevenson may have had a point. Eisenhower replied to one question about whether America was ready for another war in less than 20 seconds. The answer? “It is not.”

In contrast, Stevenson paid to broadcast 30-minute speeches. Yet, Stevenson lost the election and 30-second ads have dominated campaign television strategy ever since.

The 2024 presidential caucuses and primaries have not yet begun, but candidates and their supporters have already spent almost $250 million dollars on campaign ads. In the 2020 general election, Trump announced a $55 million ad buy for the last two weeks alone. While the dollar amounts keep growing, many of the themes in the ads remain the same: Who can be trusted, who flip flops, and who will strengthen America against foreign threats, whether they be economic or security. This playlist covers each presidential election and offers bouncy earworms (“I like Ike” and “Kennedy for Me”), existential threats (“Daisy Girl,” “Bear,” “Wolves,” and “Arms Control” ), and a wide array of ways to mock your opponent (“Humphrey laughing at Spiro Agnew Ad” and “Windsurfing”).

Further reading:

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