1956 Eisenhower VS. Stevenson

"Cartoon Guy"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Cartoon Guy," Eisenhower, 1956

MALE NARRATOR #1 [and TEXT]: Lower Taxes? Higher Taxes? Record Employment? Unemployment? Peace? War? Highest wages? Lower pay? States rights? Centralization of government?

CARTOON CHARACTER: Whoa! Stop! I've tried. I've listened to everybody on TV and radio; I've read the papers and magazines. I've tried, but I'm still confused! Who's right? What's right? What should I believe? What are the facts? How can I tell?

NARRATOR #2: Well, my friend, if it's any consolation, you're not alone. Many voters and in the same boat right this minute. Words have been flying at you hot and heavy. You've heard the pros and cons, and the cons and pros of both sides. You've listened to people you believe in, and people you've never heard of. And it's not surprising that you're confused.

But beyond all the words, beyond all the claims and promises, there's actually just one big thing on which most people base their final decision: the man.

Take this man: Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike. Soldier, Statesman, President, American. Dwight David Eisenhower is a man looked up to by everyone. He's captured the admiration, the trust, the devotion of Americans of all walks of life. He's won the acclaim of people of other nations and made us proud to be Americans. And he believes in the basic traditions of American life: home and family and faith in God, faith in man, faith in equal justice and opportunity for all. Faith in the future.

How do Americans think of Dwight D. Eisenhower? Listen.

FARMER #1: President Eisenhower has brought integrity and honesty back to the White House.

OFFICE WORKER: I'm for Eisenhower because I believe he's the only man in the world today that can talk to the leaders of all the countries in their language, on a plane that they'll understand.

FARMER #2: I'm a dairy farmer near Des Moines, Iowa. I'm going to vote for President Eisenhower because I hope to be farming for a number of years myself, and the President's program for agriculture stands for the future, and not just for day-to-day handouts.

MAN #1: I want to see President Eisenhower re-elected; he's brought honesty and integrity to the White House, and peace and prosperity to our country. That's good enough for me.

MAN #2: I think he feels that the individual American is self-reliant and wants to stand on his own feet: work out his own destiny with his hands and his mind, as he sees fit, with as little interference from government as he can have.

SECRETARY: Eisenhower strikes me as a fundamentally peaceful man, and I think that he knows enough about war that he would do practically anything honorable to keep us out of it.

PRIEST: I like the president because of his personal integrity. I think that he's the nearest thing to a statesman we've had in the White House for many years. He does have integrity; he has brought confidence to this nation and the world.

MAN #3: He practices so many things that he believes from his heart. With that kind of leadership, with the feeling and the aura--and the attitude that "I'm doing the best I can!" every time you just look at him--I just can't see anything, anything wrong with the man. Maybe I'm a little prejudiced.

NARRATOR #2: Those were the voices of the people speaking about the man they're going to vote for. Who will you vote for? What's your decision? What do you say?




"Cartoon Guy," Citizens for Eisenhower, 1956

Video courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1956/cartoon-guy (accessed July 24, 2024).


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1956 Eisenhower Stevenson Results

For President Eisenhower, the only true emergency of his first term was the heart attack he suffered in September 1955. After his doctor pronounced him fully recovered in February 1956, Eisenhower announced his decision to run for re-election. The Democrats set up a replay of the 1952 contest by nominating Adlai Stevenson. The result was an even greater Republican landslide. Eisenhower was a popular incumbent president who had ended the Korean War. Two world crises helped cement his lead in the final days of the campaign: the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, and Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt in an effort to take over the Suez Canal. Eisenhower kept the United States out of both conflicts. As is traditional during a military crisis, American voters rallied behind their president. The events also undermined two of Stevenson’s key positions: the suspension of hydrogen-bomb testing and the elimination of the military draft.

Dwight D. Eisenhower for president
Richard Nixon for vice president

"Peace, Prosperity, and Progress"

Although Eisenhower was the incumbent president, his 1956 ads continued to portray him as an ordinary American. Capitalizing on his enormous popularity, they emphasized Ike’s personality even more than his accomplishments.

To counter Stevenson’s claim that the Democratic party was the party of the average American and the Republican "the party of the few," Eisenhower’s ads offered the testimony of ordinary citizens, whether in the dramatized ad "Taxi Driver and Dog" or the documentary-style "Women Voters." The latter ad was also an acknowledgment that women were crucial to Eisenhower’s 1952 landslide, supporting him by a greater margin than men.

The Eisenhower ads closed with an appeal to "all thinking voters" because a Republican victory was only possible with the support of Democrats and independents, who outnumbered Republicans in the general population. Conversely, Stevenson’s ads urged voters to uphold party loyalty, a common plea by Democratic candidates trailing in the polls.

Adlai Stevenson for president
Estes Kefauver for vice president

"Vote Democratic, the Party for You, and Not Just a Few"

In 1956, Adlai Stevenson was still publicly railing against the expanding role of television in politics. Yet Stevenson knew that he couldn’t compete without television, and the Democratic National Committee tried to hire one of the leading Madison Avenue agencies to handle the campaign. The account was turned down by all of the large firms, who feared offending their big-business Republican clients, and was finally accepted by Norman, Craig and Kummel, an agency with little political experience that ranked 25th in billings.

The main innovation in the commercials of the 1956 campaign was the five-minute spot. Stevenson appeared in a series of such spots, titled "The Man From Libertyville," which were filmed at his home in Libertyville, Illinois. The informal and folksy ads were designed to combat Stevenson’s image as an aloof "egghead." In an attempt to portray the divorced Stevenson as a family man, some of the ads featured his son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, the Eisenhower campaign made frequent use of the president's Mamie and large extended family. Emanating from America’s heartland, Stevenson's Libertyville spots were designed to re-establish the Democratic party as the true voice of the American people.

The five-minute spot (actually four minutes and twenty seconds) resulted from cooperation between the networks and the candidates. Hoping to avoid the pre-emption of programs by half-hour speeches, the networks agreed to trim their shows to accommodate five-minute ads. To the candidates’ advantage, the spots were less expensive than half-hour broadcasts, and, as they could be sandwiched between popular programs, were likely to reach more viewers.

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