Political PR: An Examination of the 2008 Presidential Election

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Posted At: September 30, 2008 2:07 PM
by Meredith Clements

Every four years, a president is elected. For years, candidates and their campaign team plan and prepare for their public debut. Months of campaigning go by, a candidate is elected and the journey either ceases or begins.

The public has given much attention to this year’s presidential race since its beginning, yet eyes are fixed upon recent additives and events that have shaped this election. Yes, the obvious reason for this unique attentiveness from our nation is the fact that, for the first time, our presidential ticket includes two minority candidates. Yet, is there more beyond the obvious? Well, if you are a PR practitioner working on these campaigns, you would hope most people would answer no.

The truth is, that while the candidates themselves are making history, the public relations being used to back these chosen people is equally exceptional. This election’s political PR blends Hollywood glamour and respectable humility.

Conventions

Memorable PR elements of the election include the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the Republic National Convention (RNC). Election decisions heavily rely on the media and its powerful influence over Americans. Our culture has grown to expect a “political show” and is not satisfied until the “lights, camera, action” appeal is met.

During the month of May 1832, Baltimore, Md., hosted the first democratic and republican conventions. Over these 176 years, we have experienced a shift in acceptance. There have been previous attempts to break the aged, Caucasian mold, yet no one has come as far as democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Minority impact

Palin officially joined the race during the second day of the Republican National Convention (RNC), where she accepted her nomination and delivered a speech so powerful, it gained the entire nation’s attention, regardless of political affiliation. Palin’s speech took on a life of its own, snowballing into what we now call the “Palin Effect.”

Julia Baird of NEWSWEEK wrote, “Women are flocking to her, cheering her can-do attitude.” Baird believes this is the first presidential race in which women are pleased with the “super mom” image Palin portrays (http://www.newsweek.com/id/158893).

A major factor of the “Palin Effect” is her style. Her fashionable glasses are a new addition to political public relations. Never before has the public shown such attention to a candidate’s ability to accessorize. During her debut at the RNC, Palin created a signature style with these frames. According to Bruce Horovitz of USA TODAY, the Palin frame could have a serious effect on the vision-care market. Dealers around the country are calling eye wear company Italee demanding similar frames (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2008-09-03-palin-glasses_N.htm).

Baird also noted the NEWSWEEK Poll’s shift towards McCain among white women. Following Palin’s nomination, McCain led Obama by 53 to 37 percent. Baird went on to remind readers of the possibility for a PR burnout.

“Polls are notoriously unreliable and subject to quick fluctuations. [Palin] has received far less media scrutiny than other candidates,” Baird wrote.

Logos

The DNC and RNC’s logos have caused quite a stir among the political community. People have expressed mixed opinions regarding both the republican and democratic logos. Both take on a new approach than in previous years, yet drastically vary.

I decided to further explore the logo discussion by examining each logo for the image that it was. I did so by conducting brief interviews with various students at the University of Alabama. I asked the interviewee which logo he/she preferred. This question attempted to eliminate politics from the equation and simply focus on image preference.

Once the interviewee responded in favor of a logo, I asked why he/she chose the image. Lastly, I asked his/her political affiliation, thus re-entering politics into the circumstances to see if the first answer correlated with the last.

 

The findings of this interview demonstrated the difficulties of public relations at its finest. While the DNC logo was more popular due to its mountainous background and color scheme, neither party’s logo pleased the people as a whole.

Some students preferred their opposite party’s logo due to color, simplicity, text or creativity. Other students preferred a logo, yet had trouble explaining the logic behind their reasoning.

These interviews suggest that political public relations may be more difficult than the average American believes. The field of PR has the ability to adapt, and in a race such as this, fresh tactics are imperative. The 2008 presidential election has utilized both subtle and dramatic PR strategies as unique as the competing candidates.

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