News Media and Presidential Campaigns

October 12, 1984

Report Outline
Uneasy Alliance
Role of Debates
Election Coverage
Special Focus

Uneasy Alliance

Central Place of Media in Election Process

If president Ronald Reagan or Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale turns up at the airport in your town just long enough to make a short statement and shake a few hands, you might wonder why he even bothered. Such brief visits provide little time for the nominees to consult with local political leaders, speak to voters or raise campaign funds. But those are not the candidates' goals anyway. They are trying to draw the attention of news reporters and television cameras, through whom they will be able to reach as many people in a stopover visit as they would in a day full of campaign rallies.

This style of campaigning is symbolic of—and results from—the central role played by the mass media in the American presidential election process. “Newspapers, radio, newsweeklies, and television have become the major sources of information about election campaigns for most U.S. citizens,” Yale political scientist F. Christopher Arterton wrote. And as voters rely ever more heavily on news reports in making their political judgments, the influence of party workers and community opinion leaders has waned.

Presidential campaign strategy is predicated to a great degree on the reality of media politics. Both the Reagan and Mondale campaigns plan their candidates' schedules to maximize national and local news coverage. The incumbent Reagan has sought to appear “presidential”; activities that further his policy objectives play the dual role of providing pictures that send a powerful message through the media. Mondale pushed for six debates with Reagan and settled for two, knowing that these televised events have given earlier challengers an opportunity to appear worthy of the nation's highest office.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 03, 2013  Media Bias
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Feb. 05, 2010  Press Freedom
Mar. 27, 2009  Future of Journalism Updated
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Jan. 20, 2006  Future of Newspapers
Apr. 08, 2005  Free-Press Disputes
Oct. 15, 2004  Media Bias
Oct. 10, 2003  Media Ownership Updated
Dec. 25, 1998  Journalism Under Fire
Jun. 05, 1998  Student Journalism
Sep. 20, 1996  Civic Journalism
Sep. 23, 1994  Courts and the Media
Aug. 24, 1990  Hard Times at the Nation's Newspapers
Jan. 19, 1990  Finding Truth in the Age of ‘Infotainment’
Aug. 18, 1989  Libel Law: Finding the Right Balance
Jun. 06, 1986  Magazine Trends
Oct. 12, 1984  News Media and Presidential Campaigns
Jul. 15, 1983  State of American Newspapers
Oct. 23, 1981  High Cost of Libel
Dec. 23, 1977  Media Reforms
Mar. 11, 1977  News Media Ownership
Jun. 21, 1974  Access to the Media
Dec. 20, 1972  Newsmen's Rights
Aug. 16, 1972  Blacks in the News Media
Dec. 15, 1971  Magazine Industry Shake-Out
Jul. 18, 1969  Competing Media
Sep. 02, 1964  Politicians and the Press
Dec. 04, 1963  Libel Suits and Press Freedom
Jan. 09, 1963  Newspaper Mergers
Dec. 20, 1961  Reading Boom: Books and Magazines
Dec. 02, 1959  Privileged Communications
Apr. 25, 1956  Newsprint Deficit
May 06, 1953  Government and the Press
Sep. 21, 1948  Press and State
Sep. 05, 1947  Newsprint Supply
Mar. 26, 1947  Facsimile Newspapers
Dec. 10, 1945  World Press Freedom
May 01, 1940  New Experiments in Newspaper-Making
Nov. 04, 1933  Press Freedom Under the Recovery Program
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Campaigns and Elections
Journalism and the News