1956 Eisenhower VS. Stevenson

"The Man from Libertyville: TV Campaigning"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Man from Libertyville," Stevenson, 1956

MALE NARRATOR: The Democratic National Committee presents another visit with the man from Libertyville. Here at the end of this lane, on a farm about four miles from Libertyville, lives Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois. This is Governor Stevenson's living room, considerably cluttered up right now. A film crew has arrived to take pictures for television.

MAN: Scene Four, Five and Six. Take One. Track 43.

MALE NARRATOR: Now, here's the Governor.

STEVENSON: Yes, and I wish you could see what else is in this room beside the camera. Lights over here. There are cables all over the floor and even some of my friends standing around here. But you know, it's amazing how many things there are in television that you don't see. But I confess, I, I rather like it. It's wonderful. How sitting right here in my own library, thanks to television, I can talk to millions of people that I couldn't reach any other way.

But I'm not going to let this spoil me. I'm not going to stop traveling in this campaign. I can talk to you, yes. But I can't listen to you. I can't hear about your problems, about your hopes and your fears. To do that I've got to go out and see you in person, and that's what I've been doing. For the past several years I have traveled all over this country, hundreds of thousands of miles. I've been in every state, many of them more than once. And I've met thousands of you and millions of you have seen me. And out in the great Northwest - out here in Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Montana and all this great, beautiful, wonderful Western region - I've seen our magnificent natural resources, these priceless possessions that we have cherished so long, which the Eisenhower Administration has been giving away.

And the school problem is not a regional problem. All over the United States - from coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico - where I have traveled I have talked to people like you, parents, about their children, about the crisis in our schools. And I've talked with small businessmen all over the country, who get smaller and smaller and poorer and poorer while big business gets bigger and bigger.

And I've heard many people worry about the greatest anxiety of all in this age of the hydrogen bomb - about the state of our defenses, about the national security, about America's influence in the world under a Republican Administration that puts dollars ahead of national security. Yes, and I've seen the hurt in people's eyes, children and older people, too, who because of the color of their skin are treated somehow differently from their fellows in this land of equality and of freedom.

All of this and much more I have experienced - I have seen and heard and felt - as I have traveled across this broad land of ours, back and forth by train and plane and bus. And so, easy as it is to appear before you on television, I shall continue to travel and to listen throughout this campaign, as well as talk. And if you should elect me your president next November, I shall be the better for having done it, I'm sure, because I know that the strength and the wisdom that I need must be drawn from you, the people. So finally, I hope that the next time we meet it will be person to person and face to face.

MALE NARRATOR: Cast your vote on November 6th for the new America, for Adlai Stevenson for president and Estes Kefauver for vice president. Vote Democratic, the party for you, not just a few.


"The Man from Libertyville: TV Campaigning," Democratic National Committee, 1956

Maker: Charles Guggenheim

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1956/the-man-from-libertyville-tv-campaigning (accessed June 21, 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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