The 1996 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective

The 1996 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective

The 1996 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective

The 1996 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective


Political campaigns are highly complex and sophisticated communication events: communication of issues, images, social reality, and persons. They are essential exercises in the creation, re-creation, and transmission of "significant symbols" through human communication. The essays in this text examine the key elements in that process throughout the 1996 presidential campaign.


Every four years a gong goes off and a new Presidential campaign surges into the national consciousness: new candidates, new issues, a new season of surprises. But underlying the syncopations of change is a steady, recurrent rhythm from election to election, a pulse of politics, that brings up the same basic themes in order, over and over again.

James David Barber

In 1996, Americans conducted a presidential campaign that resulted in the lowest national turnout since 1924, where less than half of registered voters participated in the defining act of democracy. On election day, according to exit polls taken from those who did vote, 57 percent thought President Clinton is dishonest and over 60 percent thought he lied about aspects of the Whitewater real estate deal and "filegate."

I am reminded of the academic hypothetical question often asked, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? Clearly there was a presidential campaign with speeches, conventions, ads, and debates, but was anyone listening? the first night viewing of the Republican convention was down 21 percent from 1992. the first-night viewing of the Democratic convention was also down 21 percent. Likewise, viewership of the first Clinton/Dole debate was down 26 percent from the Clinton/Bush debate of 1992. in fact, the final Clinton/Dole debate had the lowest rating of any televised presidential debate in history--even with the dramatic increase in the number of homes with television, the 1996 debates were seen by fewer viewers than any of the historic 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debates (The Hotline, 1996, 6).

Perhaps detecting the lack of public interest, media coverage of the campaign also declined from the "feeding frenzy" of the 1992 contest. Campaign cov-

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