On Monday night, 37.2 million people tuned into the vice presidential debate between Hillary Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine and Donald Trump’s pick Mike Pence. The week prior, 84 million watched the Clinton-Trump presidential debate. The Clinton-Trump matchup was the most-watched debate in American history.
Today, we look at television and advertising as an essential part of politics and elections, but we often forget that TV is a relatively new medium utilized in American politics and elections.
69 years ago, on October 5, 1947, President Harry Truman delivered the first televised presidential address from the White House. Back then, television was still in its infancy – there were only 44,000 TV sets in American homes. Radio was the most popular mass communication channel at the time, with over 40 million radios present in American households at the time.
In his speech, he asked the American people to help conserve food to help Europeans who were still rebuilding and recovering from WWII and threatened with a harsh upcoming winter.
Truman implored farmers and distillers to reduce grain use and the American people to skip eating meat on Tuesdays, egg and poultry on Thursdays and eat one slice less of bread every day. The food conservation effort was short-lived, as the Marshall Plan was soon helped jump-start Europe’s economy.
The 1947 speech marked the beginning of an important relationship between the White House and television. All of Truman’s addresses after this October 5th speech were televised, including his 1949 inauguration.
Truman was also the first presidential candidate to broadcast a paid political ad while running for re-election in 1948 against strong favorite Republican Thomas Dewey. Reportedly, Dewey refused to run any TV ads – he thought it wouldn’t be “dignified.” Truman ultimately won the contest in one of the closest and riveting elections in US history.
Nowadays, advertising is seen as an essential part of any presidential campaign. A large portion of campaign spending is budgeted specifically towards TV advertising. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and supporters have already spent nearly $189 million on TV advertising (Trump has spent only $50 million). It remains to be seen if Hillary’s TV spend will push her closer towards the White House.