Communication and Politics Through New Mediums

By Billy Walsh

Political communication has changed throughout the decades. Throughout our country’s history, politicians have used technology to his or her advantage.  Present-day politicians are able to use the new media technologies to help with campaigns and messages for the people.

During the 18th century, politics and communication were not hand-in-hand.  The first time politics and communication collided was with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. The article was able the colonies suffrage under King George III.  This work helped united many Americans in the campaign for a revolution.  However, the document did not spread quickly throughout the colonies.  The same can be said about the Declaration of Independence.  It took several weeks for the people to read the document in newspapers.  Lack of technology prevented the rapid spread of the news.  Newspapers would not begin to see great expansion until the Telegraph began to be used.  In 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse first showed how the telegraph would play a major role in the speed of communications.  He reported updates from the Whig Party’s national convention in Baltimore to Washington, D.C.  The telegraph would lead newspapers to compete to publish new stories first. By the 1880’s, newspaper printing and typing technology helped the papers spread much faster and to larger markets.  Newspapers began to have a major political impact on the views of the people.  Paper companies would begin to back a particular candidate and help persuade readers to vote for them.

Even as newspapers continued to grow, a new form of technology was about to take the political communication to a new level. The radio became a new form of communication that allowed the people to actually here first from the politicians they sought to vote.  By 1930, forty-five percent of households in the United States would have a radio, and by 1940, eighty percent.  Radio was quickly sentenced to regulation by the government. The Radio Act of 1927 required radio stations to give equal air time to candidates.  The radio would be a major instrument used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt throughout the Great Depression.  The radio talks, also known as “Fireside chats,” became a way for the president to have a personal connection to the people and be present in their homes.

While radio and print media fought it out to determine the best political communication medium, television began to rise.  Television would be a way for people to be able to see the future leaders of the nation before they would be elected.  The importance of this technology would be tested with the 1960 presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.  Debates were a new way to help people form their own opinions on who to support.  During one of the three televised debates the two politicians held, Nixon appeared to be roughed up and tired, while Kennedy was clean and sharp.  After the debate, a poll ran to see who the Americans believed to win the debate.  The people who listened to the radio believed Nixon had won, but, the people who watched on television saw Kennedy as the winner.  Kennedy would go on to win the election, in part to his television exposure.

Television would only improve throughout the decades, but when the presidential election of 2008, social media began to have an impact on the campaigns.  This new technology connected a much younger audience to the election, which helped Barack Obama secure victory over John McCain.  Obama hired Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, to assist in his media campaign.  Although not Facebook alone, the Obama campaign’s use of all forms of social media became known as the “Facebook effect.”

As technology continues to advance, political communication will reach new heights.  Politicians seek ways to connect to the people to show off his or her new ideas and campaign strategies in hope of election.  It will be interesting to see in the future where technology and communication take politics.

Works Cited

E Book, Currents in Communication: Textbook and Reader, 2nd Edition, Chapter 6

Image, nhbrc.com, “Political Communication in China”

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