- Illustration by Nick Cruz
By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 1, 2012
With the 2012 presidential election just a few days away, all eyes are on President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. While the candidates’ stances on the economy, jobs and civil liberties are what many Americans consider the most divisive issues, there’s an aesthetic element to campaigns that often goes unnoticed.
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“Images play a key role in politics,” Rackham student Caitlin Brown said. “Images have the ability to bypass critical thinking and connect to citizens’ emotions. The emotions evoked can be positive or negative.”
Brown, whose studies focus on political communication, noted that art can be a useful form of propaganda.
Politicians spend millions of dollars on advertisement campaigns and, in the case of this unprecedented election, billions — a record-busting $1.7 billion has been spent as of Saturday, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that allows unlimited donations to technically unaffiliated SuperPACs.
Campaigns hoping to appeal to the greatest variety of voter demographics pore over countless designs for posters, fliers, pamphlets and logos to ensure they’re sending the right message.
The focus group thought Romney’s tie wasn’t patriotic enough? The red didn’t test well with this audience? Back to the drawing board.
As The Michigan Daily reported last Wednesday, even campus political groups feel the pressure to brand themselves. University students are likely familiar with the circle logo of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats — posters and fliers hung across campus boast the image, a blue and maize donkey with its bottom half in the shape of a Block ‘M’. Now, the University’s chapter of the College Republicans plans to overhaul its image in the vein of the opposing party.
“Democrats have a great brand name,” LSA senior and chair of the College Republicans Rachel Jankowski told the Daily. “When you see their stuff, you know it’s the College Democrats. That is what the College Republicans have been focusing on and it’s what we’re pushing.”
Images through history
Advertisement campaigns are nothing new. From the 1840 election’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” to the iconic “Hope” poster from the 2008 presidential election, politicians have used images for centuries to disseminate their message.
Rebecca Zurier, an associate history of art professor, said politicians believe art and images will make a difference in their campaigns, because they tend to stay with people longer than something written or spoken.
“Images can get to people in a direct way, or can propose things that aren’t there in the literal words,” Zurier said. “It can make possibilities imaginable with people.”
Zurier said one of the most prominent examples of the power of imagery occurred in the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate in 1960 — the first ever televised debate. Because television was a brand new medium, the campaigns had no precedent to follow to prepare their candidates for the focus on their appearance. In the end, this proved disastrous for Nixon.
Today, candidates are more familiar with how various images play on TV or in print and are able to manipulate their image in a positive way.
Looking at how candidates pose and what props they use, such as the American flag, is an aspect of politics that has always interested Zurier. And then there’s always the question of what a president or politician “should” look like.
“They all face that ‘looking presidential’ thing, don’t they?” Zurier mused. “We saw plenty of that in the presidential debates and then the pundits went right for it, ‘Who looks more presidential?’ ”
Even something as seemingly unobtrusive as a pin can make a world of difference.
When then-candidate Obama didn’t wear an American flag pin on his lapel during the 2008 election, voters noticed, and were not pleased.