This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: [with the sound of a street
protest in the background] It was a dark day for America. Held in contempt by
foreign nations; ridiculed in Iran.
This week on Common Ground,
international affairs as a campaign tool. Plus, measuring public opinion.
ANDREW KOHUT: You know, when 92 percent
say, “We need more war even if Osama bin Laden is caught” [laughs]… pretty
strong endorsement of the use of force.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who
shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The
next presidential election may seem like a long ways off but potential
candidates are already jockeying for position. And already, political analysts
are tracking what one network calls the “invisible primary.”
PORTER: Before we know it the
campaign will become visible, as TV ads begin airing. In recent years
international affairs haven’t played much of a role in presidential elections,
but Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman
tells us that hasn’t always been the case.
CANDIDATE RICHARD NIXON: [with the sound of drumbeats in the background] Never has so much
military, economic, and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively as in
Foreign affairs like war have often been the focus of presidential political
campaign ads. Like this 1968 spot for Richard Nixon.
[with the sound of drumbeats in the background] If after all of this time, and
all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight,
then I say the time is come for the American people to turn to new leadership
not tied to the policies and mistakes of the past.
BROCKMAN: Four years later Democrat
George McGovern had a war ad of his own.
[with the sound of a jet aircraft in the background]
BROCKMAN: His TV ad shows fighter
jets roaring overhead, followed by an announcer’s voice with one simple line:
ANNOUNCER: [The announcer is a young
girl] Does the President know that planes bomb children?
BROCKMAN: Even though the United
States is at war again, this time with terrorism, President Bush may or may not
be able to use it to his advantage in the next election.
could imagine George W. Bush in the future kind of showing, you know, “In World
War II and Vietnam we had these issues; during the Cold War we had these
issues; these enemies that we fight today, we have new enemies. And I’m the
right man to do it.”
BROCKMAN: Dr. Edward Horowitz is a
political scientist at the University of Oklahoma.
HOROWITZ: Even though right now we’re
in the midst of a situation where we’re very focused on international affairs,
if you think back to ‘88 and the period after the Gulf—in ‘92 after the Gulf
War, that was not talked about again in the election. It was over. It was done
with and our focus had really shifted. So, if things wrap themselves up in
terms of the war on terrorism it’s possible that that could just not be an
issue in future advertising spots.
BROCKMAN: Indeed, international
affairs have not been much of an issue in recent presidential campaigns and
political ads. But that wasn’t always the case.
Lewis Mazanti: [with the sound of an
electric motor in the background] It’s a very specialized photo archive chamber
BROCKMAN: The University of Oklahoma
Political Communication Center has an archive of thousands of political TV and
radio ads. The Center’s former director, co-authored an extensive analysis of
the ads. The study covered elections from 1952 to the end of the Cold War.
Foreign issues ranked second only to economics as the most likely subject of
presidential TV ads. The study also shows Republicans were more likely than
Democrats to run ads about international affairs.
ANNOUNCER: [with the sounds of
explosions in the background] Four years ago, many of our young men were on
Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.
BROCKMAN: Dwight Eisenhower ran the
first presidential TV ads 50 years ago. And many of them were about
ANNOUNCER: Eisenhower answers America!
Mr. Eisenhower, are we going to have to fight another war?
CANDIDATE DWIGHT EISENHOWER: No. Not if we have a sound program for peace.
HOROWITZ: International affairs were,
were an important aspect of the advertisements in 1952 when Eisenhower was
running. Particularly the issue of Korea and what was going to happen there.
There were some interesting ads, mostly focusing on the fact that he was the
general and so that, that had a strong play that, you know, he had a good
knowledge and was able to handle international affairs very well, compared to
his opponent Adlai Stevenson, who was simply just the governor from, from
Illinois. Interestingly enough, the General Eisenhower, he was very shocked and
you know, worried about using commercials. He was very much against it from the
beginning. And he thought that using television was sort of stooping to quite a
low level of people’s intelligence and that they wouldn’t really find that
appealing. A lot of the ads had common folk coming in, looking up towards him
in sort of a king-like figure, asking him questions like “General, what shall
we do about the war?” “General, you know, what shall we do about the situation
in Korea?” And always addressing him as “General.”
BROCKMAN: These were mostly talking
ads without a lot of visuals. But that started to change in 1959. Then Vice
President Richard Nixon was running against Senator John Kennedy for President.
CANDIDATE NIXON: And so our next president must continue to show clearly that America
is strong; that we will not tolerate being pushed around by anybody; that we
will never be put in a position where Mr. Khruschev or anybody else is able to
coerce an American president because of Communist strength and our weakness.
HOROWITZ: Nixon tried to use a lot of
clips. Mostly a lot of still photographs to show his great experience in
international affairs. Remember, in, if you think back to 1960, Nixon had just
come out of having a very successful, that famous Kitchen Debate with Khruschev
in 1959. And he was really touting his international experience. Khruschev was
seen, had been seen so widely over television in that time period—you know,
slamming his shoe at the U.N—all those, those famous things. And he used a lot
of advertisements emphasizing his international—showing him meeting with world
figures, showing him in other international places. Now Kennedy tried to
counter those advertisements by showing video clips of people protesting at
times when Nixon came to all these different places.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Horowitz says this was
an indication political ads were quickly becoming more sophisticated. In 1964
the Lyndon Johnson-Barry Goldwater presidential race focused on the Cold War.
A LITTLE GIRL
[The little girl continues her count in the
background as Mr. Horowitz speaks.]
HOROWITZ: It’s called the “daisy ad.”
It only ran one time on TV and what it shows is a little girl picking flowers,
picking the petals off of a daisy and counting them, “One, two, three,” and
then the ad switches to a countdown for a nuclear bomb going off and the camera
going into her eyes very closely and the bomb kind of going off inside her
[The ad switches to the nuclear blast countdown:
“Four, three, two, one”—The sound of a nuclear explosion.]
LYNDON JOHNSON: These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of god’s children
can live; or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must
ANNOUNCER: Vote for President Johnson
on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
HOROWITZ: It was a very strong ad. It
was a very powerful ad. And, you know, showing that Goldwater was really not a
man to be trusted with nuclear bombs. The ad never mentioned Goldwater’s name;
it just said that, you know, the stakes are very high for us at this time. But
what happened, as soon as that ad ran, the telephone started ringing off the
hook at the White House. And Johnson was like, “What is going on. What, what
have we done? What did we do?” You know, because the ads were being done—he’s
not directly involved with them as much as his campaign was. And they realized
that this was something a little too powerful and people were really shocked by
it at the time. They pulled it off right away. Interestingly enough, it got so
much coverage later in newspapers, TV news, etc., that many more people saw it
probably from that news coverage than they would have seen it probably if it
had just aired normally as a commercial.
That’s one of the things about political advertising
that makes it so important. That it is appealing to our emotions, not so much
to our knowledge. And we have here a basic debate over political advertising as
such. Should voters decide about elections based on information? Here’s where
our candidate stands; here’s the information. Should the candidate in a
commercial spot give that information to the voters? Or, as campaign
consultants like to tell it, you know, we should appeal to the emotions. Try to
get a visceral reaction from a voter. And that’s what some of these ads, particularly
the daisy ad and these other ones, are trying to do.
BROCKMAN: Moving forward to 1972,
foreign affairs dominated political ads as the Vietnam War came to an end. This
also coincided with President Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to China. It was the
first visit by a sitting president to that Communist nation since the 1940s.
And Nixon used it to his advantage.
[Chinese music plays in the background]
ANNOUNCER: China is one of the largest
countries in the world. Yet no American president had ever been there. China is
one of the most populous countries in the world. Yet no American leader had
even talked with them in 23 years—until Richard Nixon.
[sound of a Western-style military band playing
BROCKMAN: But the Watergate scandal
pushed international affairs aside. Dr. Horowitz says Gerald Ford and Jimmy
Carter paid only token attention to foreign topics. It didn’t take long,
though, for foreign affairs to make a comeback. In 1980, during the Iran hostage
crisis, Ronald Reagan was running for president.
HOROWITZ: Reagan was running a lot of
ads touting the fact that Democrats were supporting Reagan. There were, there
were, at the end of each ad it said, “Democrats for Reagan.” One of interesting
ones came about when, after William Safire wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that the Ayatollah
Khomeni did not want Americans to vote for Reagan because they wanted a weak
president in the United States. And showed a lot of scenes of the Ayatollah and
Iran. And, after the hostages being taken there, that was seen as a very
CANDIDATE RONALD REAGAN: [with the sound of a street
protest in the background] It was a dark day for America. Held in contempt by
foreign nations; ridiculed in Iran. So many countries thought America had seen
its day. But we knew better.
HOROWITZ: Mondale, on the other hand,
tried to show that the failures of Reagan in Central America, in Lebanon, and
that the whole world was watching, that we must be very careful about what was
going on. So international affairs were very important in, in 1984, in that
BROCKMAN: The political landscape
changed considerably with the end of the Cold War. Since then domestic affairs
dominated presidential elections. In fact, Dr. Horowitz notes neither of the
two major candidates in the most recent election had any ads about international
HOROWITZ: George W. Bush, because he
had no international experience, you know, he didn’t really want to talk about
that a lot. He wanted to focus on his domestic experience. Al Gore was
interesting because he did, he talked about things like the environment and
there was a sense that he had a good feel for international affairs. But he
never really used that in any of his campaign spots.
BROCKMAN: Whether the focus on
domestic ads will continue in the next presidential election or shift back to
international affairs may well depend on how long the current war on terrorism
lasts. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff
PORTER: The political commercials
we heard in Cliff’s story are part of a unique archive at the University of
Oklahoma’s Political Communication Center. Cliff, saving old political
commercials is certainly different. Tell us how this collection got started.
BROCKMAN: Keith, it was started by
Julius P. Kantor. Kantor was a former radio and TV manager. He also had a keen
interest in politics and was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention
in 1956. For whatever reason he started saving campaign commercials that were
sent on film and later videotape to the stations he managed. Eventually he
collected 25,000 radio and TV commercials. Leroy Bridges is the Interim
Director of the Political Communication Center. He was instrumental in bringing
the collection and Kantor to the University of Oklahoma in 1985.
LEROY BRIDGES: The University paid him a
total of $1 million for the collection, in two parts. One-half million dollars
up-front money and then signed a contract with Julian to become the curator for
ten years at $50,000 a year.
BROCKMAN: Kantor retired in 1995.
That’s about when the University hired Lewis Mazanti to manage the collection.
While I was in Norman, Oklahoma, Mizzani gave me a tour of the rooms that house
Lewis Mazanti: It’s environmentally
controlled to keep our temperature and humidity within the acceptable range.
But we try to keep our room around 55° and the humidity around
BROCKMAN: Besides the archive there’s
also a room with lots of old video playback equipment. And all of it works!
Mazanti: We’ve got a wide range of
equipment from the, pretty much the newest stuff to the oldest working
equipment in the broadcast entry, which is kind of a unique thing about an
archive; it’s something like a, a working museum.
BROCKMAN: Keeping track of all the
commercials can be a headache. Originally Julius Kantor catalogued all the
commercials in loose-leaf notebooks, if you can imagine. Now students are hired
to inventory the ads on computer. Eventually the system they hope will be
PORTER: Cliff, who looks at all
these old political commercials?
BROCKMAN: Well, mostly scholars doing
research. But Louis tells me the news media called him, especially during
election years when they’re trying to do a story. And he says Hollywood
sometimes calls when a producer is looking for a commercial, for example, to use
in a period movie.
MCHUGH: Public opinion, the media,
and the war on terrorism, next on Common
ANDREW KOHUT: What is what goes on in
Yugo—the former Yugoslavia really mean to me? Is the stability of Europe really
an important issue to the United States? Those questions can be addressed a
little more directly now. Or questions analogous to them, through, is this
gonna be good for our war against terrorism or not?
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and
audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the
broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the
Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range
of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world
PORTER: Randomly asking a number of
people a variety of probing questions is one of the best ways to check the
pulse of public opinion. These public opinion polls measure anything from our
cereal preference to our choice of political candidates. But polls are also a
way to measure the emotional toll of events like September 11. Andrew Kohut is
the Director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. Kristin recently talked
with him about the Center, the polling process, and the aftermath of 9/11.
ANDREW KOHUT: The Pew Research Center is
a public interest polling organization. By that I mean we conduct surveys about
politics, about policy issues, about the media, not for any particular clients
or special interest groups but rather for the public, for people who are
interested in public opinion. And we disseminate the results of our surveys as
widely as we can. And we try to provide both a depth in measuring public
opinion and also a currency at the same time. In other words, we stay with the
issues and get our reports out in a contemporaneous way but we do it in, in
considerable depth as well.
MCHUGH: Now you have conducted—or
the Research Center—has conducted a number of surveys since September 11. Can
you tell me what they focused on?
KOHUT: Well, initially they
focused on the reaction of the American public to this horrific event and what
the emotional—one of the things that we looked at was the emotional toll it
took on the public. We had been conducting these surveys during the Gulf War,
measuring the stress that was associated with watching the war in the Gulf and
worrying about our service people. And we used similar questions about
depression and sleeplessness to gauge reactions to the, the terrorist attacks
of September 11. We found an extraordinarily high level—even higher, much
higher than we had found back in January of 1991. So that was one thing.
The other thing, we did surveys about on a
continuing basis, is how the public was getting its news. The way the public
felt about the news reports: what sources, what news sources they were using;
how the public felt about coverage of the war in Afghanistan; and obviously,
the way the public felt about the use of force and what our policy decisions
should be; how the public regarded President Bush. And the ways in which
foreign policy—attitudes toward foreign policy were very much affected by this,
the September 11 events.
MCHUGH: How has the American press
fared in the eyes of the American public since September 11?
KOHUT: Well, I did a big study
back in November and I made a presentation and I said, “For the first time in
15 years I can say [laughs] the American public has a better opinion of the
media.” I’m so accustomed to saying opinions, the public has a less favorable
evaluation. But the public thought the press did a very good job in covering
the attacks and covering terrorism, the war on terrorism. And so great that it
spilled over to a more favorable general attitude in the, of the news media in
terms of its patriotism, its caring about people it reports on, its
professionalism, and so on. So, the, it was really quite a, quite a positive,
quite a positive reaction. It was a, the press really shining at a very dark
And the public has looked more favorably upon all
institutions, I might add, to put this in perspective. It now has a better
opinion of government than it did prior to September 11. And it was a
remarkable reaction. Part of it had to do with the public needed the news in a
way that it didn’t need news about Gary Condit, let’s say. Or any of the
sensational things that the national press is, has focused on in order to keep
interest going in a time of sparse news activity.
And secondly, the news about September 11 wasn’t
divisive. It wasn’t partisan. It was about the country undergoing this
tremendous shock but pulling together. And people like that. So, the reactions
were very positive.
MCHUGH: Now that the wall-to-wall
coverage on September 11 has faded, are the opinions starting to shift more
negatively towards the press?
KOHUT: We’ve seen some declines in
the evaluations even as recent, as soon as November in the way the public
looked at press coverage. But that was sort of natural. Attitudes were still
fairly positive. But once we get back to more partisan views on policy questions
here in Washington, when we get back to the unfortunate hyping of the news that
the media sometimes does, we’ll get back to the American public not having such
a good regard for the press, if that’s really what does happen.
MCHUGH: Now, if the ratings for the
press have gone up, does that mean that the viewership, or the listenership, or
the readership has gone up and therefore the public has a much better knowledge
of current events?
KOHUT: Well, I think you could see
that the answer to that is yes. And you can really see that in public opinion
reactions to the war against terrorism were very informed. The public wasn’t
expecting a quick victory. Even a survey that we did in January where we said
“Do you expect that the war will be over once we capture or kill—if and when we
capture or kill—Osama bin Laden?”, 92 percent said no. I mean, ‘cause the
public was so, has been so well informed about the complicated nature of this.
The levels of public information about the conflict and how it came about, and
how terrorism came about, were very high in relative terms. And you do really
have an informed public.
MCHUGH: We’ve talked about the
public in general. I’m curious about younger generations. Have you seen any
changes in their polling numbers as well?
KOHUT: Well, younger people have
traditionally been not good news consumers. And this generation and even the
preceding generation of young news consumers have been particularly bad news
consumers—being inattentive to things and especially international events. And
our surveys so far have shown that the young people came up to speed on
terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. But when you look at some of the broader
issues that, it doesn’t seem to be, it hasn’t changed. It hasn’t made a sea
change in civic engagement among young people. But, you know, we’re only a few
months away from, from this event and it, those kinds of shifts take time.
MCHUGH: Would you say that the
press is shaping the American attitudes or is their coverage actually just
mirroring the attitudes of Americans?
KOHUT: I think it’s a little bit
of both. I think that the effect of the press to shape public attitudes is
often overrated. On the other hand, the press provides a portrait of issues in
the larger world that people don’t experience on an individual basis, so they
look to the media for their information and they’re shaped by the pictures. I
mean, I can give you an example in recent years. I mean, the most classic
example of how the pictures of the war in Kosovo gave the Clinton
administration enough support to do the modest things that it did to try to
bring that conflict, to simmer it down and to stabilize the situation. Without,
without the pictures in Kosovo in early 1999 there would have never been as
much public support for the air war and doing what we were doing. Now, even
those pictures and even the media coverage wouldn’t have given the Clinton
administration the support it needed for a ground war. But it did shape public
opinion. But on the other—you know, there are some things that the public looks
at and says, “Well, that may be the way things are going but my values say,
‘No.’” And were contrary to what you would expect given the media exposures or even
the spin of the media.
MCHUGH: I know from reading some of
your recent surveys that the American public still tends to focus more on
domestic issues than on foreign policy issues. But are they more concerned
about foreign policy now than they were a year ago?
KOHUT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I
think there’s little question that we’ve been shaken by our vulnerability. And
it’s no longer peace and prosperity. And people recognize that what goes on in
the Mideast can reach up and grab them. Now does that mean that the American
public is going to become more internationalist in terms of geopolitical policy
questions? Does it mean that the public will follow the details of issues that
are of concern on Colin Powell’s long list of things on his desk? Probably not.
But, what it does mean is that the public is going to be much more engaged than
it has been. It now has a prism for looking at world events—the threat of
terrorism—just as we had the prism of the Cold War, that for better or for
worse—and there’s an upside and a downside to having a prism like that—will
give the public some sense of, of, of understanding and perspective on
connections and linkages that the public had.
But in recent years in the post-Cold War era they
were more difficult. What is what goes on in Yugo—the former Yugoslavia really
mean to me? Is the stability of Europe really an important issue to the United
States? Those questions can be addressed a little more directly now. Or
questions analogous to them, through, is this gonna be good for our war against
terrorism or not?
MCHUGH: For those who are engaged
would you say that they have a specific issue in mind for their concerns of
foreign policy? Or is there a list that they refer to?
KOHUT: Well, I think the public is
first and foremost concerned right now with making sure that we stop the threat
of terrorism, control weapons of mass destruction, and make sure that those
weapons don’t get in the hands of, of people who want to do us harm. There are
a lot of other issues—global concerns about the environment, about crime, about
disease, about trade, about globalization—that are also on the public’s list.
But you know, all of those things are a little less important than they were in
relative terms compared to, prior to September 11.
MCHUGH: I know that the public has
been incredibly supportive of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. How do
they feel about extending that way beyond the borders of Afghanistan?
KOHUT: Well, we were surprised
that there’s a good deal of public support for going to war with Iraq if that’s
required. And for missions into Sudan or Somalia. And this has been a public
that has been very, very reluctant to use force throughout the ‘90s. But the
public feels that we have our back to the wall; the public feels that we are at
risk. And they support the administration. They’ve seen a success—what they see
is a successful effort; albeit, an incomplete job. You know, when 92 percent
say, “We need more war even if Osama bin Laden is caught” [laughs]… pretty
strong endorsement of the use of force. Now, you know, there are limits to
that. If things start to go badly, if there’s a lot of collateral damage where
innocent people are hurt or we don’t seem to be as capable as we’ve been here,
well then there would likely be not as much support as there is. But there’s a,
there’s a pretty substantial level of support for more war.
MCHUGH: Do you sometimes find
yourself thinking, “Am I in 1992? Or am I in the year 2002?” In terms of, of
polling and the questions being related to a Bush administration being related
to war, being related to recession. I mean, it seems to me that it’s almost the
same in many ways.
KOHUT: Well, you’re right because,
in fact, we used some of the same questions. [laughs] I mean, I had a question
that I asked during the ‘92 campaign which said, “Do you think President Bush
is trying as hard as he possibly can to fix the economy?” And consistently 75
percent didn’t think he was trying. Which is a pretty bad indictment of one of
the reasons why he wasn’t returned to office. And I asked that same question
about George W. Bush. And we had a pretty even division of opinion. “Yes, I
think he’s trying as hard as he can.” “No, he’s not.”
MCHUGH: Have you had to change the
way that you conduct polling after September 11?
KOHUT: Actually polling got easier
after September 11. People wanted to talk. When we, you know, we were really
worried about calling people up. September—I think we started September 12—or
the 13th we started. And we were worried about, you know, what kind of reaction
are we gonna get. And we got a lot of, you know, “We wanna talk about this.” I
mean, I think if you had called up and said “I’m doing a poll about Quaker
Oats” and whether you like this, that, or the other thing—a market research
poll—you might have gotten a very different reaction. But talking about what
happened to us—no, I don’t think we have. I mean there’s always a struggle to
do polling effectively ‘cause people don’t like to be bothered, harassed by
telemarketers or by boring polls. But it hasn’t gotten any worse. If anything
it’s gotten better.
MCHUGH: Andrew Kohut is the
Director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
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