What do the 1960 and 2016 Presidential elections have in common? These two elections had the presence of new and revolutionary media. The television in 1960 and social media in 2016 transformed political news coverage and impacted candidates’ appearance to the public. Just as the 1960 election was ground-breaking in the televised debates, 2016 is making its mark through the use of social media. In these two elections, the media tools of presidential debates did and will impact the outcome of the presidency.
In 1960, the first ever televised Presidential debates occurred. At the time, 88% of American homes had a television. The television was a newly popular mode of communication and the debates marked the first major political event on screen. According to History.com, the 1960 presidential debates “ushered in a new era in which crafting a public image and taking advantage of media exposure became essential ingredients of a successful political campaign.” The first debate was on September 26th, where over 70 million viewers tuned in to watch. The television was a new intimate way of communication, as viewers could see the physical appearance of the candidates. According to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, radio listeners thought Nixon won the debate, while television viewers thought Kennedy took the win. This exemplifies how using one communication medium versus another can make a great difference in public perception. The TV debates reshaped the election because Americans were able to see the comfort Kennedy displayed on camera in contrast to Nixon’s pale appearance. After this, television had a lasting legacy on political communication and news, as it became the dominant source of information for voters.
In this year’s election, social media plays a congruent role to the one television in played in the 1960 election. In the first Democratic primary debate, there was a total of 3.5 million tweets during the 24-hour period before and after the debate, and 3.3. million tweets were sent during the first Republican debate. Social media impacted these party primary debates because it altered the way the public engages with each other and the candidates. The social media mode of communication is vast and offers large outreach by providing instant commentary—reaching millions of people. Candidates are able to tweet to the public, addressing political topics that reach users immediately. Candidates are trying to reach millennials because they make up a big proportion of the voters and are the most active on social media. Millennials receive the majority of their news from Facebook as opposed to local TV. According to the Huffington Post, social media is playing a major role in this election due to its ability to reach a wide range of people and expand voter outreach.
The first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump will occur on September 26th, exactly 56 years after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. With the strong presence of social media, the debate will be engaging with the public and has implications for political reporting styles in future elections to come. Political coverage in the future will continue to improve candidate exposure and make candidates more active and engaging towards the public.