Blogs > Gil Troy > 2016 In Context: The 2016 Ad Campagin

Oct 26, 2016

2016 In Context: The 2016 Ad Campagin

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Family Program in American Jewish Studies at Haifa University, which funded the study and e-book The Jewish Vote: Political Power and Identity in US Elections on which this column is based.

Three weeks from today, Americans finally will have a chance to vote for president of the United States -- hundreds of other offices on ballots across the country. As a presidential historian who has written histories of presidential campaigning, of various presidents, of First Ladies, including Hillary Clinton when she was in that symbolic role, and, most recently, of the Clintons and the 1990s in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, every day until Election Day I will post an article putting this election in historical context, trying to explain this wild and wacky race using history as our guide. So here it goes, with hashtag #2016incontext

At the risk of being outrageously unacademic, my gut tells me that this campaign has been affected far less by political commercials than previous campaigns.  We will have to await the vote and future research to see if I am right or wrong. But the Donald Trump campaign has been a personality-driven phenomenon choreographed by a celebrity who understands that the best publicity is free publicity. At the same time, his opponent Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for decades as well.

The campaign has been defined by Trump’s speeches – and outrageous statements; by media driven controversies over said statements, her emails, his taxes, her husband’s foundation; by leaks – of Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood appearance and of Clintonites’ emails; and by the debates.

Speaking anecdotally, not one person I know has initiated a conversation about this campaign with me based on any of the ads - -it seems that Saturday Night Live parodies have launched far more interactions than paid political ads.

Still, political ads help tell a campaign’s story - -and show what a campaign thinks will work.

These quick links will show that: 

a.     a) Hillary Clinton is largely running a negative campaign against Trump, against Donald Trump, against Trumpism and against Trump/Pence. Her devastating ad Mirrors, while not as potent or talked about as the 1988 Willie Horton ad or the 1964 anti-Goldwater Daisy ad certainly ranks, in artistic terms, with ads like this one, of Goldwater cutting off the Eastern seaboard.

b.     b) Donald Trump is running both against Hillary Clinton and against the status quo. Most intriguing to me was this ad, movement, which, echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous Morning in America ad, suggests a more positive campaign strategy that might have worked, but was barely tried.

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