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Reagan Media Campaigns

This is a study of the imagery employed by the Ronald Reagan media campaigns of 1980 and 1984, and of how that imagery related to Reagan and to his policies. A striking characteristic of the Reagan presidency was that Reagan the man was consistently more popular than the policies he stood for. In some cases, indeed (notably that of the Contra aid program during the 1984 election), Reagan's policy position was understood within the campaign itself to be so unpopular that mention of the policy was specifically excluded. People thus did not vote for his policies, for the most part, but for the persona  a persona they encountered almost exclusively through the mass media. How both "paid media" (advertising) and "unpaid media" (management or "spin control" of television news) were used to create the Reagan persona is the focus of this study.

Early in the 1980 Republican primary campaign, several Republican candidates gathered for a televised debate in the town of Nashua, New Hampshire. As the event got under way, an acrimonious backstage debate erupted over which candidates should be permitted in the actual TV debate. The George Bush campaign wanted to narrow the field to Bush and Reagan, showing the Republican race as a twoman race between Bush and Reagan. Reagan's campaign preferred to allow more candidates into the debate. This, they thought, would have the effect of reducing

Bush's implicit stature more than Reagan's, since Reagan with his broad popular following was the implicit frontrunner of a multicandidate race.

The behindthescenes debate did not remain behind the scenes, but erupted in front of the cameras. Reagan took the microphone and declared angrily that "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green." He went on to insist that all candidates be allowed in the debate (Cannon, 1982, p. 253).

It was largely at that moment that Ronald Reagan won the Republican presidential nomination. It wa...

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