To What Extent Is the Cult of the Personality Prevalent in U.S. Presidential Elections?

To What Extent Is the Cult of the Personality Prevalent in U.S. Presidential Elections?

  • Submitted By: skable
  • Date Submitted: 07/23/2008 12:56 AM
  • Category: Miscellaneous
  • Words: 2723
  • Page: 11
  • Views: 2

The cult of the personality in U.S. politics is the placing of candidates’ personal

characteristics above such issues as their policies or political ideology. The idea

has existed since the time of the Ancient Greeks, but has developed in the

20th century through the advent of “photography, sound recording, film…and

commercial advertising.”1

In this essay I, outline the historical context, examine the debate surrounding the

causes of this consider some examples to the contrary and finally, conclude

whether personality is as influential in elections as claimed.

It has been demonstrated by researchers and analysts that the personality cult

has impacted upon the presidential system since the time of George

Washington.2 That president, although acknowledged by his contemporaries to

have shown reluctance and restraint in his campaign style, has through legend

and history, become one of the most powerful personalities in US politics. The

same may be said of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

These men reflected the relatively restrained nature of the society which they

came from. In addition, they were not under the pressure that the instant media

created, firstly through the telegraph, then the radio, television and most recently,

the 24 hour news and internet. Even so, as the nation moved through the

nineteenth century, the cult of personality became important. The election which

made Andrew Jackson president in 1824 was based on a turnout larger than that

which produced Ronald Reagan. Jackson was not a favoured candidate amongst

the elite of the day, but a clever campaign using letters, cartoons and the tools of

the day that played heavily on his military background and cast him as the

people’s champion. Subsequently men like Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and

Reagan exploited the potential of the common touch in campaigns where

personality was...

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