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Government Essay - Elections

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Government Essay Assignment - Elections

Every four years, the citizens of America migrate to their respective polling locations and cast their vote. On this important day, the second Tuesday of November, the next President of the United States is elected. Thosen to lead the country is by proxy the leader of the free world; the election of the United States President is a deeply historical event. The actual decision, though, does not come as easily as one would think. Yes, people sometimes vote blindly along party lines, but there is a whole host of variables that can influence a voter's decision, and, largely, the outcome of an entire election. Such variables include the issues at hand, party preferences, polling results and the media's coverage. While these criteria are ever-important influences in any election, there are a select few races in which they became more important than ever. Three elections in particular come to mind - the elections of 1948, 1960 and 2004. All of these elections were close and in many ways demonstrate the intricacies and interrelationships of elements of a Presidential election.

One such important race was the race of 1948 - Thomas E. Dewey against Harry S. Truman. Top polling organizations and media luminaries were united in their prediction of Dewey's certain victory. Life Magazine even put Dewey on their cover with a headline that declared him "The Next President of the United States." Harry Truman was apparently the only man convinced that he would win; "everyone else was certain Dewey would be elected" ("Truman Surprise"). Truman, the incumbent candidate, was suffering in the polls with a weak 36% approval rate. He was leading a nation fearful of taxes and Communism. His presidential campaign was faring no better. At the Democratic Convention (the first ever televised), the entire Mississippi delegation and half of the Alabama delegation walked out during his speech. Soon after The New York Times reported that the "Democratiuspected that the media's coverage wasn't conducive to truthful reporting. The nadir of his campaign occurred when he gave a speech on national television that, due to lack of funds, was cut short. It was at this point that the election seemed to be permanently in Dewey's hands.

Thomas E. Dewey, however, was no shining star, either. Described by many as "the only man they knew who could strut sitting down," ("Truman Surprise") Dewey led a lazy campaign that relied too heavily on poll results. He also was the victim of several crucial faux pas, the most notable occurring during a speech on the back of a train. When a train accidentally backed up, Dewey exclaimed that the engineer "should probably be shot at sunrise, but we'll let him off this time..." Truman turned this blunder around to his advantage, praising train engineers and exclaiming "[engineers] are all Democrats. [Dewey] doesn't mention that under that great engineer, Hoover, we backed up into the worst depression in history." This wound up being a crucial point for Harry Truman

Eventu Dewey's 45.1%. Finally, at the end of it all, Harry S. Truman "fought the media, the commentators, and everyone else, and won the election" ("Truman Surprise"). He got the last laugh; he held up an erroneous copy of a newspaper that declared Dewey the winner. In the end, many milestones occurred during this election. Notably, it was the first televised convention. It also required the pollsters and news organizations to check their methods.

A similar series of events happened during the election of 1960. During a time of much civil upheaval, two candidates emerged. Richard M. Nixon, the Republican from California, stressed an anti-Communism stance, his hardworking, poor roots and the inexperience of his opponent, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, a wealthy, Harvard-educated Catholic, s USSR's surging economy and the importance of foreign policy. Nixon spoke of a "brighter future" and Kennedy boasted a "new frontier." These close similarities "forced the campaigns to seek out other differences".

Like the 1948 election, several faux-pas plagued the Republican camp. Eisenhower, under whom Nixon was Vice-President at the time, accidentally slighted Nixon. He was asked what major decisions Nixon had helped influence. In attempt to curtail a press conference, Eisenhower replied "if you give me a week, I might think of one" ("Road to Camelot"). Though not intended to harm Nixon at all, this hurt the election.

The media played a huge role in this election. The 1960 Presidential debate, aside from being the first ever televised, was a deciding factor. Nixon, who was weary from campaigning and a knee injury, looked haggard and old in front of the camera. This was exacerbated by the fact that he refused to wear makeup and that his suit blended in with the backdrop. Kennedy, however, owned the camera. This brought up an interesting result; "When the debate ended, a large majority of television viewers recogniates that, although not necessarily a better rhetorician,

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